Soccer

Playoff spot on line as Fort Lauderdale Strikers face Edmonton

Martin Nuñez knows a thing or two about being an underdog.

At 5-foot-6, he gets tired of being told he’s not quite big enough for the big time. So far, he proved skeptics wrong by winning back-to-back state titles at Miami Sunset High, being named Florida high school state player of the year and junior college All-American, and spending seven years as a professional soccer player.

This weekend, Nuñez and his Fort Lauderdale Strikers teammates have another point to prove: That they can beat Edmonton and keep the Eddies in the rearview mirror heading into the season finale. The Strikers (10-9-6) are hanging onto the fourth and final NASL playoff spot, and Edmonton (9-9-7) is only two points back entering Saturday’s 7.30 p.m. game at Lockhart Stadium.

“At the beginning of the season, on paper, we did not look like a team that would go very far,’’ Nuñez said. “We took that personal in the locker room. We knew we weren’t the biggest team financially, and we didn’t have the most fans, but we had a lot of heart and pride. We decided to fight and prove people wrong. We are in a great position, and extremely focused.’’

The Strikers are unbeaten over the past five games and have 36 points, just ahead of the Eddies, who have 34 points and are unbeaten over six matches. They split their two earlier games this season – Fort Lauderdale won 3-1 in April and lost 2-1 in August.

Mark Anderson, the Barry University alum and Strikers midfielder, scored the winning goal last week that kept the team’s playoff hopes alive. Nuñez fed him the assist.

“We’re in a good groove right now,’’ Anderson said. “If someone had told us before the season we’d be two points clear with two games to go, we’d have happily taken it. We’re in a great position. People doubted us, had no belief in us, fans, too, but we knew in the locker room that we could be a winning team. We all bought in, and we’re not surprised to be here.’’

Edmonton is coached by Englishman Colin Miller, and the team plays a physical, English long and high-ball style, which could pose difficulties for the Strikers, who rely on possession and technique. Anderson is from England, played in the Sunderland youth system until age 19, and is one Striker who will be familiar with the Eddies’ style.

“They’re very fast on the outside, good on headers, and are very physical, which is unique in a league that has so many South American players,’’ said Strikers coach Gunther Kronsteiner. “We will have to adjust, but I am confident in this group. Our destiny is in our hands.’’

Kronsteiner, Anderson and Nuñez all said a vocal home crowd will give them a boost they could use.

“We haven’t had a huge crowd for a while, so it would be great if we could get more fans for this big game,’’ Anderson said. “It would help us a lot.’’

Tickets for Saturday’s match start at $12. Call 954-606-0400 or go to www.strikers.com for information.

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