By FRANCO PANIZO
For 80 minutes, the Tampa Bay Rowdies were unable to break down a 10-man Ft. Lauderdale Strikers team, and the final regular-season match between the two bitter Florida rivals seemed destined to end in a scoreless draw.
Then the final 10 minutes came.
Raphael Cox broke the deadlock in the 81st mintue, and the Rowdies scored two more times before the final whistle to claim a big 3-0 victory over the short-handed Strikers at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday that clinched a playoff berth for Tampa Bay. Frankie Sanfilippo netted the second goal a minute after Cox's winner and Carlo Cort netted the dagger in the waning moments of a match that saw Ft. Lauderdale reduced to 10 men in the 19th minute after newcomer Michael Tetteh, on loan from the Seattle Sounders, was given a red card for violent conduct.
The win that came as 5,629 supporters watched on not only assured the Rowdies of their place in the postseason, but it also gave them the Coastal Cup over the Strikers for a third straight season. The Rowdies went 3-1 in the two teams' meetings this year.
Here is a look back at the rest of the Week 22 action in NASL:
RAILHAWKS CONTINUE ASCENT BY BEATING ISLANDERS
It was just the third time all season the Carolina RailHawks had won on the road, but their victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders helped them move into fourth place in the NASL standings with five games to go. The RailHawks defeated the Islanders, 3-1, in front of 1,375 fans at Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel on Saturday, moving a resurgent Carolina into fourth place in the NASL table and two points off of third.
Brian Ackley, Jason Garey scored to give the RailHawks a 2-0 edge, and after Hector Ramos cut the deficit in half for Puerto Rico, Nick Zimmerman scored a second-half insurance tally for Carolina.
STARS WINLESS RUN MOVES TO EIGHT AFTER TYING SCOPRIONS
New month, same old struggles for Minnesota Stars FC. The Stars saw their winless streak extend to eight games this past Saturday, as they settled for a 1-1 draw with the San Antonio Scorpions at NSC Stadium.
Amani Walker scored for Minnesota in the first half but a goal from Hans Denissen pulled the visitors level, leaving the 1,705 Stars supporters to exit the stadium with another disappointing result. The defending champion Stars have now fallen to sixth place in the table, but they have an eight-point cushion over seventh-placed FC Edmonton.
SILVERBACKS BLANK EDDIES
The Atlanta Silverbacks have not had much to cheer about this season, but they kept themselves in the conversation for a playoff spot by pulling off an upset win on Sunday. Thanks to a pair of goals from Matt Horth, the last-place Silverbacks beat FC Edmonton at Clarke Stadium to move eight points shy of the final playoff spot.
While it is still unlikely that Atlanta reaches the postseason, the 2-0 road win in front of a a crowd of 1,475 could help propel the club towards a strong run in the final month of the regular season.
NASL STANDINGS (bold teams have qualified for the playoffs)
1. San Antonio Scorpions (12-5-7, 43 points, +21 GD)
2. Tampa Bay Rowdies (11-7-6, 39 points, +4 GD)
3. Puerto Rico Islanders (10-8-6, 36 points, +4 GD)
4. Carolina RailHawks (9-7-7, 34 points, -2 GD)
5. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (9-9-7, 34 points, -5 GD)
6. Minnesota Stars FC (7-8-9, 30 points, -1 GD)
7. FC Edmonton (5-12-7, 22 points, -7 GD)
8. Atlanta Silverbacks (5-12-7, 22 points, -14 GD)
What do you think of this weekend's NASL action? Impressed with the Rowdies' 3-0 win over the Strikers en route to claiming the Coastal Cup? Think the RailHawks are the hottest team in NASL right now? How many more games will Minnesota play without winning?
Share your thoughts below.