Demonstrating that last week's goal-scoring surge was no fluke, the Strikers trounced the Puerto Rico Islanders 3-1 in the first leg of the NASL semifinals at the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon, PR. With momentum on their side, the Strikers have won their last two playoff matches by a combined score of 8-1.
After a scoreless first half, the Strikers jumped to a 2-0 lead thanks to Martin Nunez and Walter Restrepo. In the 49th minute, Nunez immediately demonstrated his value as a halftime substitution for team captain Abe Thompson when he accepted a cross from Lance Laing to make it 1-0 for the Strikers.
The Strikers scored again when Restrepo blasted the ball from 18 yards out and past the outstretched hands of Islanders goalkeeper Ray Burse for a 2-0 lead.
With the Islanders in danger of losing their first home match of the year, they were able to reduce the deficit to one goal when Jonathan Fana accepted a pass from Gregory Richardson to make the score 2-1.
In stoppage time, the Islanders turned over the ball and paid for it dearly when Strikers' Brian Shriver scored the third goal of the match to give his teammates a 3-1 semifinal victory.
With the opportunity to make to the NASL final round, the Strikers return home to play the second leg of the semifinals on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lockhart Stadium.
For the Islanders, Saturday's home loss could not have come at worse time. With the Strikers averaging four goals a contest in the playoffs, the Islanders are going to face the daunting task of shutting out Fort Lauderdale while trying to produce some goals themselves.
Saturday Night's Other NASL First Leg Semifinal Match
In the other NASL semifinal match, NSC Minnesota Stars won 1-0 at home over the NASL regular season champions Carolina RailHawks. Both teams return to the WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, October 15 at 7 p.m. for the second leg of the aggregate series.
The team with the most goals scored will advance to the NASL championship round where they will face the winner of the Islanders-Strikers semifinal series.
Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for LatinoSports.com. He also writes for USSoccerPlayers.com; your source for American Soccer news brought to you by members of the U.S. National Team. Easily accessible, you may reach Cesar at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Twitter at @CoveringSoccer.