By JOHN BOSCHINI
Time is running out on the Atlanta Silverbacks and the Montreal Impact.
Both teams sit six points off the final playoff spot currently held by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and it doesn't get any easier as the bottom dwellers face trips to the top two teams in the league.
Atlanta travels up I-85 to take on first-place Carolina, putting its surprising three-game unbeaten run on the line. The Railhawks have held a comfortable lead at the top of the standings since April and have dominated the season series between the two teams. Carolina has won both meetings by a combined score of 7-1.
The Montreal Impact has been the worst team in the NASL over the past two months, gaining only four points since June 4. The Impact, which is set to join MLS next season, is at the bottom of the table for the first time all season, but a silver lining may come in the form of a CONCACAF Champions League hangover from the Puerto Rico Islanders.
FC Edmonton and sixth-place Fort Lauderdale meet as both teams look to secure their mid-table standing ahead of the playoffs. Edmonton, once Carolina's closest rival, has stumbled in recent weeks and is now 16 points off the pace. Fort Lauderdale needs a handful of results to feel comfortable in its playoff chances.
Here is a look ahead at all the action in the NASL over the weekend:
Atlanta Silverbacks at Carolina Railhawks (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
Carolina has had far and away the league's best offense, and it meets the league's worst defense in Atlanta.
Brazilian striker Pablo Campos has moved into second place in the NASL's goal scoring race with eight goals. He still sits seven goals behind Etienne Barbara's 15, but their attacking combination should have a field day against an Atlanta defense that has allowed well over goals per game.
Atlanta might have more luck on the offensive end after finding a plethora of goals over the past five games. The Silverbacks have scored 10 goals in that time span but come up against goalkeeper Brad Knighton and his five shutouts.
Puerto Rico Islanders at Montreal Impact (Sunday, 2:30 p.m.)
The Islanders are the hottest team in the NASL right now and look poised to stake a claim to second place the first-round bye in the playoffs that comes along with it. The Islanders lost 2-0 to Isidro Metapan in the CONCACAF Champions League in a mid-week clash but have won three of their last four games.
The Impact is in the middle of a 10-game winless streak and show no signs of a turnaround. Possibly the biggest problem the Impact is facing is the lack of a true goal-scoring threat. No Montreal player has scored more than three goals all season.
FC Edmonton at Fort Lauderdale Strikers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
FC Edmonton has had difficulties with consistency this season but has shown that when Harry Sinkgraven's men find form, they are among the most dangerous in the NASL. Edmonton is the only team in the top half of the table with a negative goal differential, and a penchant for winning close games coupled with a habit of getting blown out has kept the expansion side from truly challenging.
Fort Lauderdale has the second-worst defense in the league but has a six-point edge on Montreal and Atlanta, and a result would go a long way towards securing sixth place.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Excited to see Atlanta try to upset Carolina? Can Montreal turn it around? Who needs a win more, Edmonton or Fort Lauderdale?
Share your thoughts below.