NPSL Weekly: Playoff Picture Builds

Big matches shape NPSL's season as playoffs near
by Daniel Casey   |   Friday, June 21, 2013

NPSL Weekly – column on the NPSL and the league's clubs, players and owners

Another big week as the playoff picture begins to coalesce. Yet there are still plenty of divisions where it remains to be seen what team will emerge as dominate.

Attention to the North

In the Northeast Conference, it is the Keystone Flight that demands the most attention. With 9 teams, the Keystone Flight is easily the most competitive division in any of the NPSL’s conferences due to the parity among teams.

As it stands now, upstate New York’s Greater Binghamton FC hold a 4-point lead over a surging Junior Lone Star FC out of Philadelphia and Hershey FC.

Again, parity is the watchword of this flight. The top 4 teams have scored nearly the same number of goals (14, 15, 11 and 12) while also surrendering about the same amount (7, 9, 9 and 4). This Flight will very likely go down to the wire.

Expect the next couple of weeks to be vital as teams look to break away from the pack. Binghamton will most likely take full points against the Pocono Snow SC this weekend. Junior Lone Star after a midweek loss to FC LVU Sonic needs to win away to FC Reading Revolution if they hope to keep pace.

The most interesting match-up this weekend will be between Clarkstown SC Eagles and Hershey FC. A draw helps neither team, as Clarkstown need a win to be kept in the conversation and Hershey is in a must-win situation if they hope to keep pressure on Binghamton.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Flight, which began well behind every other Flight in any conference, has gotten going and is now worth paying attention to. At least somewhat since it appears as though only 2 teams are really playing well: New York Red Bulls U23 and Brooklyn Italians.

Red Bulls are not just a perfect 5-0 but also have yet to give up a goal to the opposition. This weekend when the Red Bulls host Brooklyn we’ll see if the Flight will be put to bed early. If Brooklyn can come away with a win or a draw, then the Atlantic Flight will at least be a 2-horse race. If Brooklyn loses, then it’s highly unlikely the Red Bulls won’t be Flight champions.

Southern brawl

The South Conference’s Mid-Atlantic Flight is turning into a bit of brawl. Chesterfield United FC has been a bit of a surprise pulling 8 points from 5 games to stand just 2 points behind RVA FC. The Richmond side that stands atop the Flight has only given up 2 goals, so when they face Chesterfield this Friday it’ll be a battle for the top spot.

And while these two hammer at each other, DC United’s U23 is quickly fading. In this week’s Wednesday night match, the all or nothing Myrtle Beach Mutiny handily beat DCU U23, or Federal City, 3-0. Myrtle Beach is now 3-0-3, and if the team can find some sort of consistency, it could be a real challenge to RVA FC.

This weekend the Mutiny host CASL Elite, a team that is just dreadful having given up 17 goals over 6 matches. A victory by Myrtle Beach puts it at the top of the Flight.

In the South East Flight, the New Orleans Jesters will have a 2-match weekend where it’ll hope to climb up the Flight from their lowly position. It will be tough; on Friday, Rocket City United will host New Orleans. Rocket City have just escaped with points over their last 3 matches – a 5-4 win over cellar dwellers Mississippi Storm, a draw with Knoxville Force, and a slimmest win over Gulf Coast Texans 1-0.

It’s possible that New Orleans could come away with points; the Jesters certainly want to avenge their 3-0 loss to Rocket City the last time they faced off. The next day, New Orleans will travel Knoxville and it will be difficult to imagine that it’ll be able to get any points from the match. But even if the Jesters are somehow able to collect 6 points, they’ll still only be mid-table in the Flight.

So while New Orleans might be the team to pull for this weekend, the match to watch will be Flight leaders Chattanooga FC hosting expansion side Gulf Coast Texans, a team that only stands a point behind Chattanooga. Gulf Coast has only given up 1 goal over 450-plus minutes of play. Similarly, Chattanooga have only give up 1 goal – and it was to Gulf Coast in its only loss of the season.

In the South Central Flight, Tulsa Athletics reign supreme. With 22 points, they stand 7 points ahead of their only real competition Dallas’s Liverpool Warriors. These two will face each other on Saturday at Tulsa’s Drillers Stadium, expect a good sized crowd and expect goals.

South Central Flight will also give us the least interesting match of the weekend, Houston Regals vs. Houston Hurricanes. It couldn’t matter less which team wins this match, but most likely it will be the Hurricanes.

Passionate Midwest

The Keystone Flight might be the largest Flight in the league and the South Conference might be the largest conference in the league, but the Midwest Conference has to be the most passionate.

The Great Lakes Flight has perhaps the most engaged fan base in the league. The ultras of Detroit City FC, the Northern Guard, have cheered their side on to a perfect record while FC Buffalo’s supporters group, The Situation Room, have backed their team to a 6-0-1 record.

When Buffalo travel to face FC Sparta Michigan in Detroit on Friday, it will most likely continue Sparta’s 4-game winless skid. AFC Cleveland are sitting 3 points from the bottom, but it always play hard against Detroit, which they’ll be hosting on Friday.

I doubt Cleveland will get the win, but it’s possible it may sneak away with a draw. But Sunday will see the vital match-up in the Great Lakes Flight when Detroit hosts Buffalo. If Buffalo can beat Detroit at home, it will tip the balance of power.

In the Central Flight, Quad City Eagles may not be perfect, but they are undefeated over 8 games. The squad’s 22 points puts them a sound 10 points ahead of their nearest competitors, the Milwaukee Bavarians. Second-place Milwaukee and 3rd-place Madison 56ers have 2 games in hand, yet even granted 6 points, they are still well behind Quad City.

Having said that, if Milwaukee and Madison don’t come out of this weekend with 6 points each, then the competition will be all but over. With Quad City on a bye, now is the time for a move to be made, if not, the contest is over.

Milwaukee will face Minnesota Twin Stars on Saturday and Eau Claire Aris on Sunday, whereas Madison will face Eau Claire on Saturday and Minnesota on Sunday. Both Minnesota and Eau Claire are desperate for points but it’s doubtful they will come out of the weekend with much.

Battle in the West

The West Conference has 3 weeks left including this weekend. The battle is now for the top spot in each Flight.

In the Northern Flight, the Sonoma County Sol has a point and a game in hand over the Sacramento Gold. With Sacramento on a bye this weekend, Sonoma County could take a decisive lead when they welcome 3rd-place Real San Jose on Saturday. It would make things interesting of San Jose pulled off the upset, and that would be the only real chance for things to change in the Flight.

In the Southern Flight, FC Hasental slipped by 2nd-place San Diego Flash last week to give itself a secure 4-point lead over the Flash. This weekend Hasental will likely beat up on the Las Vegas Stallions, which means that the Flash will have to win over city rivals San Diego Boca in order to keep pace.

The match that could make things complicated this weekend is between the Orange County Pateadores and FC Santa Clarita. An Orange County win and a Flash loss creates a 3-way tie for 2nd-place, while a FC Santa Clarita win moves them and a Flash loss gives 2nd-place solely to Santa Clarita. Yet if this season has taught us anything, it’s that in San Diego the Flash do not lose to Boca.

Predictions: Lately I’ve not been too hot in my predictions. Last week things improved slightly going 17-12 for a total 73-82. This record is poor, yet makes me a solid East Division MLB team. Here’s hoping my suspicions for this weekend pan out.

Northwest Conference:

New York Red Bulls U23 vs. Brooklyn Italians; Seacoast United Mariners vs. New York Athletic Club (draw); Greater Binghamton FC vs. Pocono Snow SC; FC Reading Revolution vs. Junior Lone Star FC; Clarkstown SC Eagles vs. Hershey FC; FC LVU Sonic vs. Morris County Colonials; Seacoast United Phantoms vs. New York Athletic Club

South Conference:

RVA FC vs. Chesterfield United FC; Rocket City United vs. New Orleans Jesters; Jacksonville United FC vs. Miami United; Tulsa Athletics vs. Liverpool Warriors; Tampa Marauders vs. Cape Coral Hurricanes (draw); Myrtle Beach Mutiny vs. CASL Elite; Houston Regals SCA vs. Houston Hurricanes; Chattanooga FC vs. Gulf Coast Texans; Knoxville Force vs. New Orleans Jesters

Midwest Conference:

FC Sparta Michigan vs. FC Buffalo; Zanesville AFC vs. Erie Admirals; AFC Cleveland vs. Detroit City FC; Minnesota Twin Stars vs. Milwaukee Bavarians; Eau Claire Aris FC vs. Madison 56ers; Detroit City FC vs. FC Buffalo (draw); Eau Clair Aris FC vs. Milwaukee Bavarians; Erie Admirals vs. AFC Cleveland; Minnesota Twin Stars vs. Madison 56ers

West Conference:

San Francisco Stompers vs. CD Aguiluchos USA; San Diego Flash vs. San Diego Boca; FC Hasental vs. Las Vegas Stallions; Sonoma County Sol vs. Real San Jose; Orange County Pateadores vs. FC Santa Clarita

Rankings: As an addition to this edition of NPSL Weekly, I’d like to off up a team rankings board. Here’s my top 10:

1. FC Hasental
2. Detroit City FC
3. Sonoma County Sol
4. Quad City Eagles
5. Tulsa Athletics
6. San Diego Flash
7. Gulf Coast Texans
8. FC Buffalo
9. Sacramento Gold
10. Chattanooga FC 

Daniel CASEY

Carthage College Univ. of Notre Dame
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire & Minnesota Stars
Club Foreign:
Manchester United
Founder/editor of the literary magazine Gently Read Literature, active but barely read poet and literary critic, and an occasional English professor. Never got to play soccer until his mid-30s, so he is routinely schooled by U10 crowd at pick-up games.