NASL playoff picture comes into focus
The NASL playoffs are looming and the top seed is locked up. Miami FC will host the club’s first-ever postseason match on Nov. 5 at Ricardo Silva Stadium. That is done. Their opponent for that match is less clear, however.
There are currently two teams battling it out for the fourth and final spot. Those teams are Jacksonville Armada FC and the New York Cosmos who are currently tied on points but occupy the fourth and fifth spots, respectively.
While it is true that the No. 1 seed will face No. 4, it is not a guarantee that either the Armada or Cosmos are that seed. Neither one has a shot at the fall season’s automatic bid, but that doesn’t mean they are required to face the teal and tangerine in the semifinals. It is extremely unlikely that either one will play host in November. Both bubble teams can close on North Carolina FC in the combined standings, who find themselves in a fantastic opportunity to control their own destiny. The NASL’s split season format makes all of this complicated.
There are three teams in legitimate position to claim the fall and nab hosting rights in the opening round of the playoffs. One of those is Miami. They already have the top seed on lock so the rest of the seeding would be fairly straightforward. It would all come down to combined standings at that point. Aforementioned NCFC can really throw a wrench in things for the San Francisco Deltas with the right playoff push and a fall season title, but if they falter now, they may wind up dropping to fourth place in the combined standings and visiting Miami in November … or worse.
Crystal clear! Let’s look at some scenarios:
Either Miami FC or the SF Deltas claim the fall season. This would nail down the 1 and 2 seeds instantaneously. Since Miami have already clinched, there will be no change at the top. The remaining two or three spots would be awarded to the teams with the highest number of points in the combined standings.
The Deltas won’t be challenged for points in the combined standings. They cannot improve their position, only solidify it. However, there is still a chance that the Deltas end up the 3 seed. That is the worst they can do at this point. They would rather stay in that 2 spot and bring the playoffs to the Bay Area in their inaugural season. The most obvious opponent at this time is NCFC.
NCFC wants the fall too. If they can close the two-point gap on the league leaders — Miami and Deltas — they will host the Deltas in November. Be careful what you wish for. San Francisco have only one away loss on the year. NCFC has three games remaining so they had better act quickly, but they are one of the hottest teams right now. They have taken 10 points in their last four games. This scenario would mean that only one of the Armada or Cosmos get a bonus game.
The wheels fall of in North Carolina. Both NYC and JAX overtake them in the combined standings. Both are five points back, but they have a game in hand with four contests remaining. The two bubble teams have now become the 3 and 4 seeds and NCFC gets to watch the playoffs at home.
The New York Cosmos have taken six points in their last five matches. Jacksonville has taken five points in that same stretch. It is also possible that one of the two bubble teams slides past NCFC and forces the train birds to No. 4.
NCFC is unbeaten and has three wins in their last four. The wheels would really have to come off.
Puerto Rico is out. Edmonton is out. Indy is out, although not officially mathematically eliminated. The Eleven have the league’s worst defense and the worst goal differential that customarily goes with that. To consider them a longshot would be the kindest way of putting it.
The NASL is currently an eight-team league. Half of the participants will vie for the championship in November. Last year’s champs are a dark horse right now and last year’s runner-up is not even in the conversation.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @AGunyon.
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