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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Minnesota United plays Atlanta on Thursday, their final game of the NASL spring season. The Silverbacks still have a shot at the first-half title, but United doesn't; the best Minnesota can finish is third, the worst sixth (where they currently sit).
With no title on the line, then, Minnesota can focus less on the end of the spring season, and more on their captain's retirement. Center back Kyle Altman is playing his final soccer game, before beginning medical school in San Antonio this month. David La Vaque reviewed Altman's career on page C1 today, a fitting tribute to the player that has led the club for the past two and a half seasons.
Altman is dealing with an ankle / foot injury, suffered two Saturdays ago in Carolina, but I would say the chances of him not playing Thursday night are roughly 0%. The captain won't miss his final game, even if he has to strap on a prosthetic leg to get out there.
How the NASL title scenarios shape up
NASL eliminated all but the championship game from their playoffs this year - but thanks to league parity, the season's final week has a couple of de facto playoffs.
Three teams - Carolina, Atlanta, and San Antonio - have a chance to take home the spring title, which comes with the right to host the Soccer Bowl, the season's championship game. Atlanta is is in Minnesota, and Carolina travels to San Antonio - where the first-half trophy will be on hand. Here's how the scenarios shake out:
In other words, Carolina is the only team that controls its own destiny; they can even win the title with a two-goal loss. They also have the advantage of starting a half-hour later, as their game is at 7:30pm while Minnesota and Atlanta play at 7:00; depending on the result in Minnesota, Carolina could have a chance to throttle back for the final half-hour.
Speaking of throttling back, Atlanta coach Brian Haynes is certainly hoping that Minnesota does some throttling back of its own. Speaking to Neil Morris of Indy Week following his team's 1-1 draw with Carolina last week, he said, "When I look at Minnesota, I’m not coming down on them, but... I don’t think they have as many weapons as the RailHawks, for example. I’m hoping that they get beat by Edmonton tomorrow, and they don’t feel like playing and when we go to Minnesota they’ll be nice to us and give us a win."