NASL Fall Week 1 Preview: New Beginnings in Miami, Puerto Rico and on the Broadcast Front

NASL

by JAKE NUTTING

The North American Soccer League’s Spring Season provided a suitable aperitif for fans across the league, as the short 10-game stretch culminated with only four points separating the first and seventh place clubs. With that in the past now, the main course that is the more grueling 22-game Fall Season is set to kick off on the July Fourth weekend, with 11 teams vying to lock up the three remaining spots in The Championship.

With the start of the Fall Season also comes new opportunities, both on the field and off.

Expansion side Miami FC is already hoping to reinvent itself with an expensive roster overhaul after finishing last in the spring title race. Another NASL startup, Puerto Rico FC, will host its inaugural match as it looks to bring professional soccer back to the island and prove the market can sustain a team four years after the demise of the Puerto Rico Islanders.

For the league, it’s the start of a new chapter in the quest to expand its broadcast profile. CBS Sports Network officially joins the portfolio this weekend with the broadcast of Rayo OKC’s home match with FC Edmonton. The network will broadcast 11 more matches during the Fall Season.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers host Miami FC, Saturday July 2, 7 p.m. ET

It seems like a bizarre thing to say of the team that finished dead last in the Spring Season standings, but Miami FC is somehow one of the teams drawing the most interest heading into the Fall Season. Eyes from across the league will be interested to see if first-time head coach Alessandro Nesta can deliver on the field after the team dropped serious money to retool the roster. After picking up defensive midfielders Richie Ryan and Michael Lahoud in the final weeks of the spring, Miami moved to improve its attack this week with the acquisition of attacking midfielder Kwadwo Poku from New York City FC.

Miami will be facing off with their South Florida rival in the second installment of what’s been dubbed the Florida Clasico. Fort Lauderdale finished the spring with a terrific stretch of positive results, but the Strikers could be feeling tired legs after requiring extra time to advance past Orlando in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday.

New York Cosmos host Ottawa Fury FC, Saturday July 2, 7 p.m. ET

The Cosmos have little time to wallow in the heartbreak of their U.S. Open Cup exit, as they play host to Ottawa Fury FC. Fortunately for the Cosmos, they’ve won all of their matches played at Hofstra this year. Center back Roversio finally returned to action during the break to play in the cup, but he picked up an unfortunate hamstring injury in Wednesday’s losing effort that will likely keep him out of the fall opener.

Ottawa heads into the fall with a few significant changes. Forward Idan Vered and the team’s second leading scoring in the spring, Marcel De Jong, are both gone. While Ottawa has lost two attacking pieces, they picked up quality defensive reinforcements from fellow Canadian side FC Edmonton. After signing defender Mallan Roberts on a season-long loan from Edmonton late in the spring, Ottawa added Roberts’ longtime teammate Eddie Edwards during the break. Ottawa’s defense allowed 14 goals during the spring, the second highest amount in the league.

Puerto Rico FC host Indy Eleven, Saturday July 2, 7:30 p.m. ET

For their inaugural match, the NASL’s newest expansion side has the honor of hosting the league’s Spring Season champions. Puerto Rico FC may be new to the NASL, but the club already boasts plenty of connections to the island. Head Coach Adrian Whitbread held the same position for the Puerto Rico Islanders — the last NASL side to call the island home. Whitbread has also recruited several former Islanders and Puerto Rican national team members, including forward Hector Ramos and midfielder Jackie Marrero.

Indy is set for their own debut, as Mexican international Gerardo Torrado will see his first NASL action since signing at the end of the Spring Season. The 37-year-old defensive midfielder was brought in to further solidify a unit that only allowed eight goals in the spring. Apart from protecting its reputation against the newest club on the block, Indy will also be looking to maintain its 10-game unbeaten streak that lifted them to the spring title.

Tampa Bay Rowdies host Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday July 2, 7:30 p.m. ET

While none of the tweaks to Jacksonville’s roster during the break classify as blockbusters, the club is hoping they’re enough to right the ship after finishing tied at the bottom of the spring table with only seven points. Alexander Andersson and Niklas Maripuu, a pair of Swedish attackers, were brought in to beef up an attack that embarrassingly only tallied five goals in the spring.

The Rowdies should be motivated to dispatch Jacksonville at home after squandering a man advantage in their spring finale against the instate rival. Not only did the 1-1 draw cost the Rowdies a chance to finish in the top four in the spring standings, it also allowed Jacksonville to maintain its lead in the Coastal Cup, the annual competition between all the NASL clubs based in Florida.

Minnesota United FC host Carolina RailHawks, Saturday July 2, 8 p.m. ET

On paper, a matchup on the road with the potent Minnesota United FC seems like a tough task to open the Fall, but it could be a decent chance for Carolina to recapture the magic of their 2-1 win over the Loons in the spring opener that sparked a four-game winning streak. The RailHawks fell off the cliff midway through the spring and could never regain their mojo. Head Coach Colin Clarke made a move for Jacksonville’s underwhelming Matt Fondy in hopes of helping the striker regain the form that saw him take USL MVP honors last year.

From the Loons perspective, they’ll be doing everything they can to avoid stumbling out of the starting block again. They had the best shot at clinching the spring in the last few weeks but let it slip away with a three-game losing streak. Center back Damion Lowe will miss the match with a sprained MCL.

Rayo OKC host FC Edmonton, Saturday July 2, 9 p.m. ET

Rayo OKC’s inaugural Spring Season would best be described as respectable, at least relatively speaking for an expansion side. There were some definite highlight-worthy moments for the NASL newcomer, although there were also some serious head scratching ones. For instance, the team only lost one road match in the spring, but that one loss saw them reduced to nine men thanks to several ejections.

Edmonton finished their spring on a high note, winning three of their last four and only a single point behind Indy Eleven and the Cosmos at the top of the table. Defense buoyed them in the spring, with center back Papé Diakite proving to be one of the best signings of the offseason. However, the Eddies will need to plug a hole on that impressive back line after the defection of Eddie Edwards to Ottawa.

  • Daddy yankee

    With so much USL expansion, I wonder which league between USL and NASL will survive.

    • OpenCupFan

      FYI – in the last 5 years USL has been forced to fold 3 different leagues.

  • Alex gago

    Its not a matter of wich league will survive but which clubs will survive?

  • OpenCupFan

    Minor leagues come and go, USL will just be replaced by another if it collapses – no biggie.
    .
    It the last 5 years USL has already folded three different leagues out of existence. That’s the problem w/minor leagues -> nobody cares about it.
    .
    Support your local INDEPENDENT soccer CLUBS!
    .
    #GreentideWordwide
    .
    mls = #WalkingCorpse

    • ecky

      I thought Rayo okc was already out and they are getting downsized with Rayo’s relegation? not looking good for the nasl, usl just keeps on growing, nasl not so well…

    • Larry\’s a Simpleton

      I see you’re still a retard in denial. Major League Soccer is flourishing and the North American Soccer Little League is on its way out.

      The Strikers are bouncing paychecks and im sure so are a lot of other teams. Including the f. cosmos. I reckon being an independent soccer club just aint what it used to be.

      http://fiftyfive.one/2016/07/turmoil-fort-lauderdale-strikers-players-staff-checks-bounce-players-leave/

      #SUCKSTOBEYOUOPENCUPFANJSPECHONIONSACK

      • Dr. Freud

        Did you really have to post this in two separate places? That’s a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder. Clearly, you need help.

        • Larry\\\’s a Simpleton

          I can’t help it. It’s not easy being overweight, unemployed and in the closet.

        • james w

          it may be a sign, but facts are facts – nasl is going in the **** bin soon, they can’t even pay their people and get maybe 1000 to games, Rayo OKC on the way out also. nasl teams don’t have independence anyway, they are subject to 2/3rds ownership from criminal Traffic sports.

          • Dr Freud

            All true, but that doesn’t make your obsession any less peculiar and unhealthy

            • ecky

              don’t think people are obsessed, they just want US soccer to improve and that is hard when you have the nasl giving soccer in this country a bad name dragging it down, with no payments to players, legal threats, low attendance, criminal founders/owners, and questionable franchises that don’t come to fruition… At least the USL is growing and trying to develop young players with connections with MLS teams…

  • OpenCupFan

    I wonder how many of its bills #bushLEAGUEmls could pay if it wasn’t taking $ from USNTs. Any guesses?

    • Sunil

      I will serve my dark lord, the Almighty Don, at all costs. His is the only way. I worship at his precious feet.