By JOHN BOSCHINI
When they won the 2010 USSF Division 2 Championship, the Puerto Rico Islanders rode a stunning hot streak after a mediocre regular season.
That doesn't seem to be a problem this time around as Puerto Rico could open up a six-point lead at the top of the NASL table with a victory over the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers on Friday. This follows a 3-1 comeback victory over Minnesota in the Islanders' home opener in midweek.
The Carolina Railhawks, who lost to Puerto Rico in week one, are looking to keep pace and take on a talented but under-performing Minnesota team. It's the home opener for the Stars and both teams face the possibility of a cold, stormy night so goals will be at a premium.
Earlier on Saturday, the Atlanta Silverbacks will try to get their first point of the season in their first road game of the season against FC Tampa Bay. Both teams are languishing at the bottom of the NASL table and a win for either team could finally kick-start their season.
Here is a look back at Puerto Rico's midweek victory and a look ahead at the weekend's action.
Puerto Rico Islanders 3, NSC Minnesota Stars 1
The Puerto Rico Islanders are showing no signs of slowing down, scoring three unanswered goals to down the NSC Minnesota Stars 3-1 in Puerto Rico as the Islanders extend their season-opening win-streak to three games.
NASL Commissioner David Downs was on hand to present the Islanders with their USSF Division 2 Championship trophy but the home side found itself down after just 22 minutes. Jeff Cosgriff knocked down Andrei Gotsmanov’s free kick to Stars’ captain Kyle Altman, who converted from eight yards out.
The goal woke Puerto Rico up and the Islanders equalized in the 34th minute when Nick Addlery’s header beat Minnesota keeper Joe Warren to his far post.
The game-winner came just five minutes later when Jonathan Fana scored the first of his two goals. The Dominican Republic international’s hard shot from the top of the box deflected off a Stars defender and clipped the underside of the crossbar before crossing the line.
Minnesota pressed Puerto Rico after the break and Devin Del Do almost equalized just before the hour mark but he didn’t get enough power on his chip.
The victory was all but assured with 13 minutes remaining when Fana completed his double. David Foley’s low cross was turned in by Fana, who now has scored four goals in three games. Puerto Rico ended the game with 17 corner kicks.
FT. LAUDERDALE STRIKERS AT PUERTO RICO ISLANDERS (Friday, 8:05)
If the Strikers have been anything this season, it's average. Ft. Lauderdale has a win, a loss and a draw so far in 2011 but is coming off a road win over the Atlanta Silverbacks. Eduardo Coudet is finding the back of the net for the Strikers but their goal will be to defend against a dangerous Islanders' attack. Be on the lookout for Fana's goal-scoring streak to continue and the Islanders should get a boost from the home crowd.
ATLANTA SILVERBACKS AT FC TAMPA BAY (Saturday 7:00)
The Atlanta Silverbacks haven't played as poorly as three opening losses would suggest but a pension for letting in late goals has left Atlanta in a desperate position. FC Tampa Bay has not scored in two games and will have to figure out some way to get its offense on track.
CAROLINA RAILHAWKS AT NSC MINNESOTA STARS (8:30)
The Minnesota Stars crumbled against a potent Puerto Rico offense, bringing its goals-against total up to a league-high five goals. Carolina has scored five goals this season while keeping a clean sheet only once. Carolina has played most of its games this season in adverse weather conditions, which are a possibility on Saturday night but don't expect a scoreless draw as both teams need a win to keep pace with Puerto Rico.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Impressed with Puerto Rico? Can Atlanta finally get its first points? Who wins between Minnesota and Carolina?
Share your thoughts below.