The Puerto Rico Islanders face a difficult trip to Florida this weekend to face the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Despite a poor overall record, the Strikers hold impressive home form meaning it will be a tough task for Adrian Whitbread and his men as the squad aims to cope without thirteen first team players.
Ahead of the game, Coach Whitbread spoke to the Club’s official website, explaining why adversity is unavoidable in a league season.
“The team is a little bit depleted. We have got 13 players out this weekend because of international call ups or suspensions. I believe we have had a successful season so far qualifying for the playoffs. There are still four games to play for so that could lead to finishing anywhere in the league,” Whitbread explained.
“I think you have got to go through the adversity we have gone through the last month with results. You are never going to turn around and have a season where you went completely through unbeaten.”
“The best teams in the world go through that adversity. Look at Liverpool. At the minute I don not think they have picked up one point against Manchester City. They have spent lots of money but it takes time.”
And as the NASL regular season draws to a close, Coach Whitbread was keen to acknowledge what was at stake for the Club, but also admitted he is urging his players not to focus on the past.
“We are at the back end of the season. The players are aware of what iis at stake but at the end of the day, for me, just go out and play,” Whitbread explained before adding, “Don’t worry about other things that have been going on. Don’t worry about things that have gone on in the past. It is about looking forward now preparing for the end of the season, and that is what we are planning for.”
The Coach is also aiming to take a cautious approach with David Foley and Jonathan Faña, with the pair having only recently returned to action from injury. Howeve,r Whitbread did conceed that with such a small squad, his hand may be forced.
“We are still wading on the side of caution, We are not going to push them too hard so they break down again and get a recurrence of the injuries they had or pick up a new injury because they haven’t done a lot of training. So, I’ll monitor that,” said Whitbread.
“Obviously when I am down to the numbers I have got that it is difficult, but like I say, for the next two games, it will be good to get some minutes back in to them and push them on to the end of season path.”
“We sre having to be very careful, but on the other side of it I cannot be too careful, because I need to get the minutes into them. I hope they don’t turn around and get a reoccurring injury and really to just let them go out and play and let them go as far as they can in a game and, if I can make the substitution I can, then I’ll do so.”
Following the announcement of Richard Martin as NASL Pllayer of the Month, the Coach also took time out to praise his goalkeeper and acknowledge the role of the coaching staff and players in helping Martin secure the award.
Whitbread said: “I think it saying that we have done something right in purchasing Richard from the start of the season. He has worked very hard to get the accolade he’s got and obviously the Club is very proud of him and I am sure he is very proud of himself.”
“I am sure he will be the first to admit that he could not have done it without the help of the squad and the coaching staff to obviously get that result of Player of the Month.”
He went on to say: “Congratulations to Richard but, again, we have got another month at least of the regular season to go coupled along with the playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League and he needs to keep on continuing to work and it is up to him how far he wants to progress as a goalkeeper, whether it be here at the Islanders or a future somewhere else.”
The season so far
After last week’s defeat at the hands of the Carolina RailHawks, the Islanders now sit third in the league, three points behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2nd. The side have struggled on the road this campaign with their last away points coming in early August against the San Antonio Scorpions.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s opponents, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, have the second best home record in the league, despite sitting 5th in the NASL standings. The Strikers have lost just two of their thirteen home games this season, with a record of 8-3-2. The match holds heavy playoff implications for the Strikers, as they look to clinch a playoff berth, something the Islanders secured last week.
The two teams have an identical 1-1-1 record against each other this season with the Strikers drawing first blood in a 3-2 victory way back in April. The Islanders were able to exact revenge in the next fixture thanks to a 2-0 win in early May.
The last meeting saw a goalless draw between the two sides at Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel last month.
Shoot on sight!
Saturday’s trip to Fort Lauderdale will see the Islanders face the team with the second highest shot rate in the North American Soccer League. Second only to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers have taken just over three hundred shots this season, scoring 37 goals in the process. That leaves the Strikers with a conversion rate of 12%. English striker Mark Anderson may explain the Club’s high shot level, as he leads the league with eighty one shot, nearly twenty more than Simone Bracalello in second place.
Meanwhile, the Islanders are the most frugal attackers having attempted two hundred and twenty five shots this term, scoring twenty eight goals- giving the Islanders a similar conversion rate of 12%.
If the Islanders are to leave Florida with anything they will need to stop Walter Restrepo. The San Diego native, who started his career in Colombia with Boyacá Chicó, has eight assists and six goals for the club this season. The midfielder is enjoying his second season in Florida after a fantastic debut in 2011.
Elsewhere player/coach Abe Thompson has three goals and four assists in under a thousand minutes of football, and adds a wealth of experience to the Strikers, having played in MLS with FC Dallas, the Houston Dynamo and the Kansas City Wizards.
NASL Player of the Month-Richard Martin
With one of the best defensive records in the NASL, it should come as no surprise to see Englishman Richard Martin voted the league’s Player of the Month for August. Upon hearing of his success, Martin told the Islanders' official website: “It is such a privilege to be named NASL Player of the Month, but I couldn’t have done it without all my teammates. This is a truly special group of guys and this award just goes to show what a great job we have been doing on defense, not just the backline but the entire team.”
The former Brighton and Manchester City custodian has been in brilliant form for the Islanders this season, as he looked to fill the void left by Ray Burse’s departure to the Carolina RailHawks.