By MIKE GRAMAJO
Two points separate the Carolina RailHawks and the Atlanta Silverbacks at the top of the North American Soccer League standings, but that all can change with so much on the line when they meet on Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park.
A victory for the first-place RailHawks would effectively end the season and give them the honor of hosting the 2013 Soccer Bowl this fall, but if there is one team they are wary of, it’s the Silverbacks. Last time these two clubs met in NASL play, the Silverbacks won by a score of 2-0.
Another match that has high implications is Minnesota United visiting FC Edmonton on Sunday. United will hope that the Silverbacks grab a victory on the road over the RailHawks, as that will open up the window of opportunity for United, leaving the race for the NASL spring season down to three teams.
The games will be streamed live online, and for a closer look, here are the matchups (all times local):
RAILHAWKS vs. SILVERBACKS (Saturday at 7pm, WATCH HERE)
The Carolina RailHawks have a chance to clinch the spring title and the rights to host the Soccer Bowl if they’re able to secure a victory against an Atlanta Silverbacks side that’s coming off a 2-1 defeat to the Tampa Rowdies last week.
“Matches like Saturday night are the type that you look forward to and players want to play in,” RailHawks coach Colin Clarke told NASL.com. “We have worked hard all season to put ourselves in a position to clinch the Spring Season title and we have that opportunity on Saturday night.”
Meanwhile the RailHawks hope to brush off their Open Cup exit to Real Salt Lake as they continue their fine form in NASL play. Clarke’s side rallied late and defeated Minnesota United, 3-2, last Saturday, courtesy of forward Brian Shriver’s second half brace in the dying minutes of the match.
Statistically the RailHawks have been a better team all season, Brian Shriver and league-leading eight goals while midfielder Austin Da Luz and his league-leading five assists have been crucial for all season. The Silverbacks’ poor start, going three games winless in April may have hindered they chance of clinching the title. However, if the Silverbacks are able to pull a victory at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, they would leap frog the RailHawks in the table, leaving the race to host the Soccer Bowl to be determined in the last week of the spring season.
STRIKERS vs. SCORPIONS (Saturday at 7pm, WATCH HERE)
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who sit in last place with just eight points, welcome a San Antonio Scorpions team that are currently in a three game winning streak.
“This is a must win game and we are going to treat it as such,” Scorpions coach Tim Hankinson told NASL.com. “There is still a chance for us to finish first, but we can only control what we do on the field, so we are aiming for three points on Saturday.”
Despite starting the season in a five-game winless skid, Dutch forward Hans Denissen has scored five goals for the Scorpions. Scoring six goals and conceding two in their last three games has left the Scorpions sitting tied in the fourth spot, but a victory at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday could change everything and put the Scorpions on 17 points.
EDDIES vs. United (Sunday at 4pm, WATCH HERE)
If it isn’t conceding early or conceding late in the game, Minnesota United hope to break that habit when they visit Clarke Stadium on Sunday to battle FC Edmonton.
United are entering Sunday’s match, losing a 2-0 lead as they fell to league-leaders Carolina RailHawks 3-2, which saw RailHawks forward Brian Shriver score two unanswered goals in the dying minutes of the game. If that isn’t nothing, United have three defeats and two victories in their last five matches, two of those losses saw United concede in stoppage times.
Meanwhile the Eddies, who are out of the race, are currently on a five-game losing streak, their last victory dating back to May when they defeated the Silverbacks 3-0 at home.
What do you think of Week 13? Do you think the RailHawks can clinch the spring title on Saturday? Can the Silverbacks force the spring campaign to end on its week?
Share your thoughts below.