Friday, October 5

LD Update: NASL Semis Preview; NASL Commish retires; MISL signings

Be prepared for the next two weekends of semifinal play of the North American Soccer League postseason to be close contests as they play out their two-leg series. In the eight previous matches this season in the two pairings, only one game saw a team leave victorious - and that was via a late penalty kick in a 1-0 decision. Low scoring is also likely as six of the other seven results between the teams finished in 1-1 or scoreless draws with one lone 3-3 exception. The regular season champion San Antonio Scorpions take on the defending league champion Minnesota Stars, who are looking to repeat as winners from the lowest seeded position. Meanwhile, the second-seeded Tampa Bay Rowdies are facing last season's regular season champion Carolina RailHawks, who are looking to get past the semifinals after falling to Minnesota a year ago.


#3 Carolina RailHawks vs # 2 Tampa Bay Rowdies
G1: @ Carolina 10/6 -- G2: @ Tampa Bay 10/13

Something will have to give between two sides that know each other very well going into the semifinals. The two clubs played to draws in all four meetings this season, going the whole range of outcomes. The most recent meetings came in a home-and-home series in the final week of the regular season in which they capped the season with a scoreless stalemate in North Carolina after playing to a 1-1 draw in Florida midweek. Andres Arango headed in a Luke Mulholland corner for the lead 14 minutes in for the Rowdies with Brian Shriver finding Ty Shipalane for the equalizer in the 62nd.

The two also played to a 1-1 draw in the season opener with Shriver scoring the opener for visiting Carolina via Mike Palacio in the 66th. Tampa Bay's Dan Antoniuk found since-departed Tsuyoshi Yoshitake four minutes later for the draw. The second meeting, however, was a wild 3-3 affair. The Rowdies took the initial lead on the road when Mulholland set up Shane Hill for the opener off the post in the 17th minute only to see Carolina run off three straight. They took the game to intermission level with Nick Zimmerman finishing a cross from Kupono Low in the 43rd. He scored again to claim the lead four minutes into the second half on a feed from Jason Garey in a counter. Three minutes later a Palacio throw sent Garey in on goal to double the advantage. Mulholland, though, was not through, scoring on a half-volley in teh 86th and delivering a corner that Takuya Yamada volleyed past the keeper in stoppage time.

Prior to the bye week for the opening round, the Rowdies were in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak (2-0-4) in which they posted four shutouts, three against playoff qualifiers. Tampa Bay, however, has struggled to find offense at home of late, scoring just three times in the last five games while posting three three-goal performances on the road in the same span.

Last week Carolina finally posted a win against Fort Lauderdale after having played to a pair of draws at home and two road losses against the Strikers. Garey set up Amir Lowery for the lone goal of the first half in the 34th minute and Zimmerman found Ty Shipalane on a counter in the 52nd. Fort Lauderdale answered on the hour mark with Shipalane restoring the two-goal lead six minutes later off a ball from Shriver.

The playoff victory was Carolina's first win at home in a month after going scoreless in the previous two in September, a 1-0 loss to San Antonio and the season finale draw with the Rowdies. The two results were the only times in September the RailHawks were unable to find a goal as they were 2-0-2 on the road with eight goals scored.

#6 Minnesota Stars vs #1 San Antonio Scorpions
G1: @ Minnesota 10/6 -- G2: @ San Antonio 10/14

One goal. That is the theme for the defending league champions and the reigning regular season winners. Neither team scored more than a goal in any of the four meetings, three of them finishing in draws with San Antonio taking the season series based on a 1-0 victory at Minnesota in August.

The first time they met in June, the two sides played to a scoreless stalemate. Then in the second meeting Hans Denissen provided that deciding goal for the season from the penalty spot in the 70th minute after Pablo Campos had been taken down in the box. In September, the two sides finished in a pair of 1-1 draws in which, oddly, the visiting team scored the equalizer in the 69th minute. On the First, Amani Walker scored off a Miguel Ibarra cross to give Minnesota the lead in the 33rd minute only to see Campos set up Denisson to earn the draw. On the 23rd, it was Campos scoring the opener nine minutes in. Kevin Friedland knotted things up when he blocked a clearance into the goal.

The top-seeded Scorpions come into the semifinals not only with a week off courtesy of the bye, but on a run of unspectacular results, perhaps from taking their foot off the gas due to the large lead they had in the table. San Antonio was winless in their last three games, falling to Carolina 2-1 and in Atlanta 3-1 before finishing the season with draw in Minnesota. In fact, the Scorpions, who finished with the leagues best offense and the Golden Boot winner in Campos, have not scored more than once in their last six games (1-3-2) and only once (a 4-0 home win versus second-seeded Tampa Bay) in the past 10 games (3-4-3) since dropping eight on Carolina in a stunning blowout.

Last week in the opening round of the playoffs, the Stars put up a two-goal lead against Puerto Rico through Simone Bracalello, who found Walker in the ninth minute and Ibarra in the 41st. It proved to be enough as the hosts were only able to rally for one goal in the second half.

Prior to the surprising first round upset of Puerto Rico, where they posted their first-ever victory, the Stars have not exactly lit it up lately either. They came into the postseason with only one win in their last 12 games (1-5-6). Minnesota, however, has shown a propensity for success in cup competitions, winning the league title last year from the same sixth-seed position and doing well in the US Open Cup, picking up on the former Thunder team's sucess by posting a stunning 3-1 Third Round road win against Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake. 

NASL News: League commissioner David Downs, who renewed his deal in March, is stepping down to retire back in New York... The league announced Ricky Hill of the Tampa Bay Rowdies as the Coach of the Year... A deal was announced in Loudoun County (Northern Virginia) to build a baseball-soccer stadium that could be home to an expansion team in 2014... Fort Lauderdale Strikers all-time leading scorer Abe Thompson announced his retirement to take a youth development position at United Soccer Leagues... Steven Sandor reports that FC Edmonton is slashing the team's budget 30-35 percent, an story that was coupled with the team's dismissal of the coaching staff. Whether it is to keep team losses down or save funding for stadium construction, the news is probably not good for the Minnesota Stars, who will likely need the league's ownership of the team to continue if new ownership is not found... FC Edmonton also released three more players Tuesday, which included Canadian U23 standout goalkeeper Michal Misiewicz.   

USL News: The Richmond Kickers announced the return of Shane Johnson, who signed a multi-year deal... The Wilmington Hammerheads announced the promotion of sales manager Matt Sadler to the open general manager post.

MISL News: The Wichita Wings announced the signing of 2012 league MVP Geison Moura, who spent the past two seasons with the Missouri Comets... The Comets, meanwhile, resigned Leo Gibson and Danny Waltman... 


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