Tampa Bay Sports Day

NASL: Rowdies Among Those Chasing Cosmos, RailHawks

The Tampa Bay Rowdies received quite a boost going into Week 7 of the North American Soccer League (NASL) Spring Season, unveiling accomplished English veteran Joe Cole as their newest signing on Wednesday. The three-time Barclays Premier League champion could make his debut on Saturday as the Rowdies look to put a stop to expansion club Rayo OKC’s winning streak in the Sunshine State.

Elsewhere, the Carolina RailHawks and Minnesota United are each hoping to use home-field advantage to keep pace with the league-leading New York Cosmos. Carolina sits tied on points – but behind on goal differential – with the league leaders heading into its match with Miami FC, while the Loons enter their clash with Jacksonville just two points behind with a game in hand. The Cosmos make the trip out west to Clarke Field in a matchup against FC Edmonton and its sturdy back line on Sunday.

In South Florida, Indy Eleven carries its unbeaten record into Lockhart Stadium. Tim Hankinson’s side is the league’s lone unbeaten club, but they go on the road to face a Fort Lauderdale Strikers team that is growing in confidence after its statement win over Carolina last week.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Indy Eleven
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers received a boost in their Spring Season campaign with a big road win against the then-first place Carolina RailHawks. The Strikers (1W-2D-2L, 5 points) now move on to hosting the league’s only unbeaten team, Indy Eleven. Honduran international Ramón Núñez showcased his creativity with two assists in Carolina, while defender Nana Attakora added a goal and an assist in the 3-1 win. The first win of the season for Fort Lauderdale could just spur Caio Zanardi’s men to bigger and better things as the Spring Season passes its midway point.

Indy Eleven has been in fine form to start the year, and their string of strong performances show with their unbeaten record. The Boys in Blue, though, were unable to hold on for a win against FC Edmonton in last weekend’s 1-1 draw. Indy (2-3-0, 9) has gotten surprising offensive production from its defenders. Nemanja Vukovic has scored twice, while Greg Janicki was on the scoresheet against the Eddies last Saturday.

Carolina RailHawks vs. Miami FC
The Carolina RailHawks started the Spring Season on fire, but have since cooled off with two losses in a row. Following their loss to Fort Lauderdale, the RailHawks (4-0-2, 12) remain at WakeMed Soccer Park looking to right the ship against Miami FC, which has yet to record its first NASL win. Alessandro Nesta’s side has conceded the most goals (12) in league play, and now it has to face a RailHawks team that has racked up the most assists in the league with nine (four belong to captain Nazmi Albadawi).

Miami FC (0-2-4, 2) is still finding its feet in the NASL. After losing late leads in its first few games, the expansion side has been shut out in two consecutive encounters – most recently a 3-0 home loss to the New York Cosmos. Miami, though, will get another crack at one of the league’s top sides, looking to keep the RailHawks’ wings clipped for another week.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Rayo OKC
Idle last week, the Tampa Bay Rowdies will have a buzz about them at Al Lang Stadium this weekend after introducing three-time Barclays Premier League Champion Joe Cole to the team on Wednesday. Tampa Bay (2-2-1, 8) won its last game over rival Fort Lauderdale, 1-0, on Neill Collins’ headed goal. The Rowdies, though, will need to be wary of their next opponent’s attack as upstart Rayo OKC continues to find ways to score, having only been shut out once – the first game in club history – in its first five matches.

Rayo OKC (2-1-2, 7) heads into the clash with Tampa Bay brimming with confidence, as the Sunshine State has been kind to the expansion side in recent weeks. In fact, both of the club’s wins have come on the road against Florida sides. Robbie Findley scored the game-winner – his second goal of the year – against Jacksonville Armada FC in a 1-0 victory the last time out. Brazilian defender Michel, who was deployed in a more advanced position last game, continues to be a standout performer, adding an assist last game to his team-leading tally of three goals.

Minnesota United vs. Jacksonville Armada FC
Christian Ramirez and Ben Speas have formed a dynamic one-two punch for Minnesota United. Ramirez has a league-leading four goals through five games for Minnesota, while Speas has added three. The Loons will feel disappointed not to get all three points against Ottawa Fury FC last weekend, with the game finishing at 2-2. United (3-1-1, 10) is right in the thick of things in the Spring Season title race, and a positive result against Jacksonville will put the Loons in a good position to earn some silverware.

Jacksonville Armada FC is hoping to bounce back after a pair of home defeats – both narrow 1-0 margins. Coach Tony Meola can take some solace in the way Jacksonville (1-1-3, 7) has been able to possess the ball in its last two contests, but the Armada FC need to bring a clinical touch to their matchup against Minnesota to get a result on the road.

FC Edmonton vs. New York Cosmos
After back-to-back losses due to conceding late goals, the New York Cosmos have returned to top form. The club first took down previously undefeated Carolina and then put on a commanding performance in a 3-0 win over Miami FC. The Cosmos (4-0-2, 12) have created the most chances (56) and have taken the most shots (60) in the league, but this weekend they run up against a tough FC Edmonton back line. The Eddies have kept three clean sheets on the season, only behind the Cosmos’ four.

FC Edmonton has shut out its opponent in two of the last three league games and is unbeaten in that stretch. Forward Jake Keegan is rounding into goalscoring form with his second of the year coming in the recent 1-1 draw with Indy. Keegan amassed over 30 goals in two seasons in Ireland. Papé Diakité has also been a standout performer for the Eddies (2-2-2, 8), anchoring a back line that will undoubtedly face its toughest test of the Spring Season on Sunday.