Minnesota United beat Indy 1-0 on Wednesday, a game that saw the Loons misfire but pull out the win. While United fans have been frustrated by a few poor results this year, the win was the team's third in three matches, and pushed Minnesota up to second place in the combined standings.
In other words, normalcy is being restored in the NASL. The New York Cosmos, with only one loss all season, won the spring season and are seven points clear in the race for the combined title. Minnesota is headed north in the standings. Save for an excellent run by the Ottawa Fury, which still leads the fall season race, the rest of the league is enduring on-field struggles.
New York entered the league in midseason 2013 and changed its dynamics, especially financially. With deep-pocketed owners and the ability to trade off nostalgia for the days when Pelé and Giorgio Chinaglia owned New York, the Cosmos raised the bar for the NASL — and only Minnesota has kept pace.
Since New York entered the league, the Cosmos have 112 points in 61 games. Minnesota has 107 points. Fort Lauderdale comes next, with 85 —closer to Atlanta, the worst of all with 65 points, than it is to Minnesota. Things won't last this way, as the Loons are off to Major League Soccer, likely in 2017 or 2018. While the Cosmos roll along, it's worth wondering whether the rest of the league can survive to continue to provide competition.
The league itself is in turmoil after former chairman Aaron Davidson, the driving force behind the creation of the league, was arrested in connection with a series of alleged bribes paid to CONCACAF officials. Traffic Sports USA, which Davidson ran, has been at the center of North America's arm of the FIFA scandal — tough for the NASL, which was created and owned by the company.
A rundown of the league's teams doesn't show much in the way of health. Carolina still is searching for a new owner. Atlanta is threatened by the Falcons-owned MLS expansion team that starts play in 2017, as would be Fort Lauderdale and an NASL expansion team in Miami by a David Beckham-led MLS team. Tampa Bay's owner is embroiled in legal trouble of his own. San Antonio has openly pined for a MLS move.
The NASL has big aspirations, and the Cosmos have been at the forefront of a second path for big-time American soccer. If the league is going to escape the "interesting experiment" portion of the history books, though, it needs other teams to match the Cosmos.
Soccer short takes
• Last week, the NASL filed a lawsuit against USA Soccer, accusing the American soccer governing body of conspiring with MLS to raise the standards for a league to be sanctioned as "Division 1." The NASL, desperate to attract sponsors and other money to the league, takes the position that being pegged as "Division 2" is all that's holding it back from competing with MLS for fans, TV viewers, new teams, and potential corporate sponsors.
• The transfer deadline in England came and went with only a handful of big-name moves — especially at Arsenal, which ended the summer as the only team in Europe's top leagues not to sign someone other than a goalkeeper for its first team. The Gunners, whose two wins this year have come courtesy of opposing teams scoring own goals, didn't get the striker they so badly needed. Two days later they announced that Danny Welbeck, their second forward option, would miss most of the year because of a knee injury. Seemingly every year, manager Arsene Wenger refuses to spend money, while his title rivals spend hundreds of millions of dollars on reinforcements. It's a big part of the reason that one of Europe's 10 richest teams hasn't been in serious contention for a title in a decade.
• The Bundesliga is crying out for a team to give Bayern Munich a run, which is why Borussia Dortmund's flying start to the year is so heartening. BVB, as Dortmund is called, has scored 11 goals in three wins under new manager Thomas Tuchel — a return to the high-flying, high-scoring ways that made them the darlings of Europe. VfL Wolfsburg began the year as perhaps Bayern's best competition, but it just sold Kevin De Bruyne, last year's Bundesliga player of the year — perhaps not a good sign for its own chances. It might be up to Dortmund this year to keep Bayern from clinching the league by mid-February, but the early signs are good.
Weekend watch guide
NWSL: Seattle at Washington, 6 tonight, nwslsoccer.com / YouTube. Washington, led by attacker Crystal Dunn, needs a win and some help to clinch a home game for next week's league playoffs. Otherwise, the Spirit will travel to Seattle for the playoffs. Megan Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock and company have made Seattle the team to beat in the NWSL, with two consecutive regular-season titles — but the championship eluded the Reign last year, something it is out to avenge this year.
Euro 2016 Qualifying: Netherlands at Turkey, 11 a.m. Sunday, ESPN3. With just three matches to go in the qualifying round, both of these two powerhouses sit outside the automatic qualification places, behind both Iceland and the Czech Republic. A win for either would put it in control of the third spot in Group A, which would be in a playoff with another third-place team to qualify. A loss, especially for the Netherlands, would be viewed as catastrophic.
NASL: Minnesota at Edmonton, 3 p.m. Sunday, ESPN3. You'll have to get your computer or mobile device to watch live — the game will be shown on Ch. 45, but on tape delay. With three wins in a row, the Loons are on their best streak of the year, but a trip to Edmonton is always dicey. There's something about the combination of Sunday-afternoon soccer and the regular gusty winds that howl through Clarke Field that promotes crazy games north of the border.
MLS: Dallas at Columbus, 6 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 1. This is the game of the week in MLS, which doesn't take a break even though the date falls in a FIFA-mandated window for international games. So many difference-makers on both sides in this matchup are playing for their countries this week. Right or wrong, MLS's refusal to break for mandated international dates means that winning without the big names is an important part of being a successful MLS team.