By JOHN BOSCHINI
It was an exciting opening weekend in the NASL with an expansion side earning a surprising road victory and the defending champions making a statement as every game ended with a one-goal margin.
This week,two sides that opened strong face off when Puerto Rico continues its North American road trip against FC Tampa Bay. Carolina will look to get its season back on track after a last-minute loss to the Islanders in Cary by welcoming the Montreal Impact, who is fresh off a loss to FC Tamp Bay.
Two teams who are still getting used to playing professional soccer again meet when FC Edmonton travels to Atlanta to play the Silverbacks. The NSC Minnesota Stars will look to keep their season start perfect with a victory over the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, who struggled in their debut.
Here is a look at what's ahead this weekend in the NASL.
FC Edmonton vs. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (Friday, 8:30)
Ft. Lauderdale got off to a poor start to the 2011 season with a 2-1 home loss to FC Edmonton. One loss can be written off as a fluke but Ft. Lauderdale will need to show some defensive resolve if it is to turn it around. The NSC Minnesota Stars, on the other hand, managed to snatch victory in Atlanta last weekend. Minnesota will need to improve on managing possession as a rebuilt squad searches for some cohesion.
Montreal Impact at Carolina Railhawks (Saturday, 7:00)
Montreal was the only team to be held scoreless and will have to get its attack going against a stingy Carolina defense in a rematch of last season's USSF Division 2 semifinals. Montreal showcased some midfield fluidity and it took a brilliant strike to break down its defense. If the Impact can find its finishing touch this could be a high-scoring affair.
It may be early in the season, but a second-consecutive loss for the Railhawks would be tough to take. Scottish newcomer Steven Glass is still integrating into the side as is goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who will probably be called on against a dangerous Montreal attack.
Look out for a physical game as two teams with some heated history face off. The 16 games between the two teams featured 67 yellow cards, 10 red cards and 227 fouls.
FC Edmonton at Atlanta Silverbacks (Saturday, 7:30)
It's not uncommon to see expansion sides, full of energy and unknown by the opposition, earn a positive result in their first game. The challenge for Edmonton is keeping its momentum going against an Atlanta side who can take some positive from an opening-day defeat. Shaun Saiko, a promising prospect in the Canadian youth setup, scored a goal and provided an assist in his debut and could be a dangerous player this season.
Atlanta played very much like a young and inexperienced side in its debut. After fighting back to equalize late in the game, the Silverbacks allowed Minnesota to come back into the game and punish them at the death. A strong home support could boost Atlanta and if the Silverbacks can control the game early, they have a strong shot at a first win.
Puerto Rico Islanders at FC Tampa Bay (Sunday, 6:00)
Puerto Rico managed to steal a victory late in Carolina in front of a non-existent crowd last Saturday but face a tough test against FC Tampa Bay, the only home side to win last weekend.
Puerto Rico seems to have continued its hot streak from last season and the squad seems to have gelled at an accelerated pace. Josh Hansen has a goal and an assist so far this season and could challenge Tampa Bay's back line.
FC Tampa Bay was outplayed for long periods last weekend but a strong defense held out and it was able to score late on a counterattack. Don't expect Puerto Rico, a defensive and organized team away from home, to allow a goal easily so this will be a test of Tampa Bay's creative abilities on the offensive end.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Can home teams be more effective this weekend? Any predictions for the games?
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