By JOHN BOSCHINI
With the Puerto Rico Islanders off for another 12 days, the Carolina Railhawks have an opportunity to stake a claim at the top of the NASL table.
After an opening-day loss to Puerto Rico, Carolina is unbeaten in three games and will hope to carry that momentum south for a matchup with FC Tampa Bay. Carolina is coming off a trip to Minnesota so fatigue could be a concern. Tampa Bay is in desperate need of some offense, scoring only twice this season.
The Atlanta Silverbacks return home after earning their first point of the season at Tampa Bay to welcome FC Edmonton. The newcomers started off well with victories over Ft. Lauderdale and Minnesota but have lost their last two games by a combined 7-0 and are beginning to show some inexperience.
Two teams smack dab in the middle of the NASL table face off when fourth-placed Ft. Lauderdale takes on fifth-placed Minnesota. The two teams tied in their opening match of the season and both are trying to find some consistency.
Puerto Rico is off to compete in the Caribbean Championship over the next two weeks and will be away from the NASL.
Here is a look ahead at the weekend's fixtures.
Carolina Railhawks at FC Tampa Bay (Saturday, 7:00)
Carolina's Etienne Barbara is fresh off being named the NASL Player of the Month for April, scoring four goals in four games. The Railhawks will need the Matlese international to continue his scoring form if they are to overcome a stingy FC Tampa Bay back line.
Carolina should have an easier time on defense as Tampa Bay is averaging .50 goals per game. Jeff Attinella, the highly-rated rookie goalkeeper from USF, will make his first-career start after Daryl Sattler suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
FC Edmonton at Atlanta Silverbacks (Saturday, 7:30)
FC Edmonton's surprising start is beginning to look like a fluke as Harry Sinkgraven's men are struggling and the organization and discipline that was seen early in the season seems to have evaporated. The 5-0 thumping suffered at the hands of the Montreal Impact puts the Canadians at the top of the goals-conceded category with eight. Atlanta took its first point last weekend from FCTampa Bay and will try to use that momentum to boost its disappointing home form.
Ft. Lauderdale Strikers at NSC Minnesota Stars (Saturday, 8:30)
Neither the Stars nor the Strikers are quite living up to expectations so far this season but posses enough talent to make a move up the table. Minnesota played well against league-leaders Carolina and Puerto Rico but managed only one point from both games. Ft. Lauderdale has yet to keep a clean sheet this season but a threatening offensive attack has managed to balance out some defensive frailties. Expect an open game as both teams need a win.
What do you think of this weekend's fixtures? Which game are you most looking forward to? How much longer does Atlanta have before it needs to start racking up points?
Share your thoughts below.