2016 NASL Season Preview

IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES

by JAKE NUTTING

Winter has come and gone, spring is upon us and with it comes a new season of North American Soccer League action.

In the league’s sixth year of existence, it will welcome expansion clubs Rayo OKC, Miami FC and Puerto Rico FC, with the later delaying its debut until the Fall Season in July.

Today, we will cover the league as a whole, but the New York Cosmos preview is on hold for tomorrow.

Carolina RailHawks

2015 Finish: 3rd place (Spring), 7th (Fall), 6th (Combined)

Notable Losses: Nacho Novo, Neil Hlavaty, Simone Bracalello, Chris Nurse

Notable Signings: James Marcelin, Brian Shriver, Karem Moses, Simon Mensing, Drew Beckie

The Carolina RailHawks have not created much buzz with their offseason moves, though that in no way diminishes the positive impact their signings can have this year.

With newfound resources from owner Steve Malik, Carolina was able to retain the services of winger Tiyi Shipalane and promising attacker Nazmi Albadawi in the face of serious interest from across the NASL.

The RailHawks have also pooled their new resources to remedy the major concern from last season: the backline. Head Coach Colin Clarke has tapped several defensive players throughout the NASL to come in and shore up the squad this year. He’s reunited centerback Simon Mensing and right back Paul Black, who were regular starters for an Atlanta Silverbacks defense that stymied some of the best attacks last season. In addition, Ottawa’s Drew Beckie and Edmonton’s Karem Moses have left the Great White North to aid in the defensive rebuild.

The signing of midfielder James Marcelin cannot be overlooked either. While Fort Lauderdale’s attackers got most of the attention last year, Marcelin was instrumental in getting the club into the playoffs. Clarke will be looking for the Haitian international to replicate that performance while providing cover for the new look defense this year.

FC Edmonton

2015 Finish: 10th place (Spring), 5th (Fall), 7th (Combined)

Notable Losses: Lance Laing, Karem Moses, Hanson Boakai, John Smits

Notables Signings: Adam Eckersley, Nik Ledgerwood, Jason Plumhoff

Edmonton struggled mightily last season when without left-footed winger Lance Laing as result of international duty, and now they face that reality on a permanent basis this year as Laing has departed for Minnesota.

In the absence of Laing on the wing, Head Coach Colin Miller has focused on solidifying the middle of the field with the addition of veterans Nik Ledgerwood and Adam Eckersley. Ledgerwood is one of the few senior Canadian national team members to sign with the Eddies, while Eckersley is a versatile defensive-minded player with ample experience in Europe.

Given the power vacuum in Edmonton this season, it could be an opportune time for one of the many talented youth players from the club’s academy system to step in and grab the spotlight. 22-year-old Allan Zebie had a solid showing on the back line in his debut season last year, and teenagers Marko Aleksic and Shamit Shome could be set for similar outings after recently earning call ups to Canada’s U-20 squad.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers

2015 Finish: 8th place (Spring), 4th (Fall), 4th (Combined), The Championship Semifinal

Notable Losses: Stefano Pinho, Marlon Freitas, James Marcelin, Walter Ramirez

Notable Signings: Matheus Carvalho, Luis Felipe, Victor Pineda, Aurelio Saco Vértiz, Maicon Santos, Gale Agbossoumonde, Bruno Cardoso

For the second straight offseason, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers have completely blown up a roster that qualified for the playoffs by finishing in the NASL’s top four. Bizarrely, it’s also the second year in a row they are starting with a new coach after firing Gunter Kronsteiner (for a second time) this offseason.

After lobbying for the job, General Manager Caio Zanardi was given the reins as head coach. Zanardi’s roots as a youth coach in Brazil have helped the Strikers lure U.S. youth internationals Luis Felipe and Victor Pineda, as well as Fluminense product Matheus Carvalho. At only 24, Carvalho arrives in Fort Lauderdale with invaluable UEFA Champions League experience under his belt from a loan spell at Monaco last year.

A returning youngster will also be asked to play a pivotal role in Fort Lauderdale’s 2016 campaign. The 22-year-old PC had an outstanding debut last year, but he’ll see much of the burden of sparking the offense fall on him after the significant losses of Stefano Pinho and Marlon Freitas.

The Strikers still have their fair share of veterans this year. Ex-Indy Eleven midfielder Kleberson and former Tampa Bay Rowdies forward Maicon Santos have been added to the squad after being severely hampered by injuries throughout last year.

NASL experience also plays an important part in Zanardi’s all new back line. Former San Antonio Scorpions veterans Julius James and Nana Attakora have found a new home in South Florida. Former U.S. youth international Gale Agbossoumonde also has a lot to prove after requesting a release from the Tampa Bay Rowdies halfway through the Fall Season over concerns with his playing time.

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  • Kevin

    Minnesota is stacked. Probably the team to beat in the NASL this year