By JOHN BOSCHINI
It's no secret that Carolina has been far and away the best team in the NASL this season and, somewhat unfortunately for the Railhawks, teams across the Atlantic Ocean are starting to take notice.
Carolina captain Brad Rusin left the club abruptly earlier this week to sign a three-year contract with Denmark Superliga side HB KÃ¸ge. Rusin had been instrumental in the Railhawks' league-best defense, which has conceded just 13 goals. With Rusin no longer in the fold, the Railhawks put their 13-game unbeaten run on the line this weekend with a road matchup against NSC Minnesota Stars.
The Atlanta Silverbacks take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in a matchup of reeling defenses that gave up four goals on July 4th. The Silverbacks have yet to see a reward from some improved play, and the Strikers are clinging to fifth place by goal difference alone.
Puerto Rico is back in the thick of things after a difficult spring. The Islanders are up to third in the NASL standings and go into a matchup with FC Tampa Bay, which currently sits in sixth place. This a clash between two of the league's worst defenses, so expect an open game.
Here is a look ahead at the weekend action in the NASL:
Atlanta Silverbacks at Fort Lauderdale Strikers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
On paper, it's difficult to find a worse team than the Silverbacks. One win in 14 games paired with a -19 goal differential spells an easy victory for Fort Lauderdale. However, Fort Lauderdale has a penchant for draws and is coming off a 4-2 defeat to FC Tampa Bay. Atlanta is in the midst of a six-game losing streak.
FC Tampa Bay at Puerto Rico Islanders (Saturday, 8:05 p.m.)
The Islanders remain a ways back from the Railhawks but could move into second place with FC Edmonton on hiatus. Tampa Bay has played well over the past two months but has picked up a tendency for taking nights off along the back line. Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella has allowed three goals three times this season, and the Islanders shut out Tampa Bay when the two teams met in April.
Carolina Railhawks at NSC Minnesota Stars (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.)
The Railhawks' winning streak has been well documented, as has their dominating lead at the top of the NASL table, which is now up to 13 points. The Stars, once Carolina's closest challengers, have won only once since May 18 and are in danger of sinking into mid-table irrelevance.
What do you think of this weekend's action? Think Carolina will continue its success without Rusin? Can Atlanta win another game? Will Minnesota knock Carolina off its perch? Expecting goals in Puerto Rico?
Share your thoughts below.