Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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The NASL spring season ends July 4, and the fall season doesn't begin until August 3, effectively giving teams a second preseason during the month of July. In order to stay in game shape, Minnesota will play a couple of friendly matches during the summer break.
Wednesday, July 17, at the National Sports Center, United will play a home friendly match against FC Edmonton, another NASL team trying to stay busy. A week later, on July 23, they'll visit the Thunder Bay Chill of the Professional Development League. The team is open to scheduling another game, as well, but that appears to be unlikely.
United will have two weeks off before the first friendly, and ten days off after the second one, which should be plenty of time for the injured to heal and the tired to rest. Some had hoped for a high-profile exhibition during July, but United was unable to wrangle a more high-profile opponent - and so the summer will be about preparing for the fall.
NASL Standings: Looking up at Atlanta and Carolina
Results didn't break Minnesota's way at the top of the NASL standings over the weekend - but United still remains one of three teams with a realistic chance of winning the spring championship.
Atlanta pulled off a semi-improbable win at Fort Lauderdale, scoring a penalty in second-half stoppage time to win 1-0 and go to the top of the standings. The Silverbacks were reduced to 10 men with a half-hour to go in the match, but deep into time added on, Horace James got behind the Fort Lauderdale defense and Strikers keeper Matt Glaeser brought him down. Richie Menjivar converted the penalty, and Atlanta ran out 1-0 winners.
Carolina, too, rescued a result with a late goal in Edmonton. The Eddies had taken a 1-0 lead in the 73rd minute thanks to Michael Cox, but Carolina's Cesar Elizando canceled that out in the 88th minute from a goal-mouth scramble, giving the RailHawks a 1-1 draw and a point on the road.
The weekend results mean that Atlanta leads the league with 17 points, followed by Carolina with 16 and Minnesota with 14. All three teams have three games remaining in the season. Effectively, the title will be decided between those three teams; Tampa Bay (12 points, 2 games remaining) and San Antonio (11 points, three games remaining) are still mathematically alive, but both would need pretty much everything to fall their way to get into the title picture.
Over the next three weeks, the top three will play a sort of mini-round robin. Minnesota visits Carolina this week; the following week, Carolina hosts Atlanta, and the week after, Atlanta makes the trip to Minnesota. With two home games, Carolina has to be considered the favorite, but Atlanta's the team that's leading the league at the moment.
For Minnesota, those two games are both must-win. Lose to Carolina this week, and nothing short of a miracle would bring the league title to Minneapolis.
The full NASL standings are here.
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