NASL Week 1 Preview: Soccer Bowl Rematch, Florida Rivalry, more

IMAGE, NY COSMOS

by JAKE NUTTING

The North American Soccer League is set to kick off its sixth season this weekend with the fourth edition of the Spring Season. Rayo OKC and Miami FC are the latest entrants into the nascent league, and they will be joined by the Carmelo Anthony backed Puerto Rico FC in July for the NASL’s Fall Season.

The spring will be fast and furious once again, as the 11 teams competing will be tasked with a short 10-games to determine the first side to clinch a spot in the league’s four-team playoff system, The Championship.

Last year’s lone expansions club Jacksonville Armada FC will sit out the opening weekend of the season with a bye.

Carolina RailHawks host Minnesota United FC, Saturday April 2, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

Fearing a schedule conflict with the NCAA Men’s Final Four, the Carolina RailHawks have the honor of hosting the first match of the 2016 NASL season on Saturday afternoon. WakeMed Soccer Park will be brimming with excitement with the enhanced amenities and investment in player resources offered by new owner Steve Malik. Through Malik, Head Coach Colin Clarke was able to retain attacking standouts like Tiyi Shipalane and Nazmi Albadawi, while also reacquiring former Golden Boot winner Brian Shriver. The back line saw the most turnover, though, and will be made up almost entirely of new faces like ex-Atlanta Silverbacks captain Simon Mensing and ex-Ottawa Fury defender Drew Beckie.

The revamped RailHawks defense has a huge test right out of the gate. Somehow not content with leading the NASL with 54 goals last year, the Loons went out and added two of the league’s most potent options in Lance Laing and reigning MVP and Golden Boot winner Stefano Pinho. The left winger Laing is expected to slot in immediately, but a preseason knock could keep Pinho from starting right away.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers host Miami FC, Saturday April 2, 7 p.m. ET (beIN Sports)

The NASL is hoping that Saturday night is the birth of a long and heated rivalry as the Strikers play host to expansion side Miami FC in their first competitive match.

Despite being an NASL heritage side and one of last year’s playoff teams, Fort Lauderdale enters the season in a similar position as Miami. Only four players on this year’s roster are holdovers from last season, with PC being the only player among that group who was a regular contributor. Much of the heavy lifting will fall on PC now, but the club has added more Brazilian firepower with Matheus Carvalho and Geison Moura to help out.

Meanwhile, Miami has assembled an impressive inaugural roster with seasoned internationals Wilson Palacios and Matuzalem to shepherd the midfield. First-time head coach Alessandro Nesta has also tapped some attackers with North American experience like Jamie Chavez and Pablo Campos to lead the charge up top. The latter is looking to recapture the glory days of his Golden Boot and Ball wins in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rowdies host Indy Eleven, Saturday April 2, 7:30 p.m. ET (One World Sports)

Indy Eleven enters the new season slightly behind the ball.

The roster has been hampered by injuries to new signings, forcing new coach Tim Hankinson to release forward Dino Williams and midfielder Stephen Deroux before they even suited up for Indy. Working in their favor, though, is the positive buzz surrounding Irish-Libyan forward Eamon Sayed, who will be supported by last year’s Ottawa Fury standout Sinisa Ubiparipovic in midfield.

For their part, the Rowdies have had a positive preseason under new boss Stuart Campbell. Like Indy, the Rowdies inked one of Ottawa’s key players in forawrd Tommy Heinemann, who will be the linchpin of the Rowdies attack going forward. All eyes will be on who Campbell taps from his talented pool of attacking midfielders to start on opening weekend. Freddy Adu has returned for a follow up season, but he could be in for a serious fight for minutes.

 Rayo OKC host FC Edmonton, Saturday April 2, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN 3)

All the hype around expansion side Rayo OKC on opening weekend concerns striker Georgios Samaras, but the Greek international could still be far off from making his debut as visa issues prevented him from training with OKC for most of the preseason.

The Eddies shouldn’t sleep on the new kids on the block, though. Rayo OKC still field a lineup that includes proven NASL talent Billy Forbes and ex-U.S. international Robbie Findley up top. On top of that, they’ve got Ghanaian international Derek Boateng to marshal the midfield.

The Eddies will likely have a more conservative look this year after the departure of the dynamic Lance Laing. Head Coach Colin Miller has made it a point to shore up the center of the field with the addition of Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood.

New York Cosmos host Ottawa Fury FC, Sunday April 3, 6 p.m. ET (One World Sports)

The first week of the NASL season will close out with a rematch of last year’s championship final, although there won’t be much continuity for the Canadian side. The visiting Ottawa Fury FC have a new coach in Paul Dalglish and only held onto to a handful of players from last year’s roster that took the Fall Season title. They’ll take comfort in knowing Golden Glove winner Romuald Peiser will be returning to net, but he’ll have a new-look back line shielding him from attacks.

The Cosmos lost some integral pieces from their championship season, as well. However, they’ve maintained the core of the defense that was only edged out by a record-setting Fury back line last year. In addition, holdovers in the midfield and promising newcomers like Yasmani Duk and Yohandry Orozco mean Gio Savarese won’t have much to change up. An interesting question facing Savarese, though, is how to incorporate Juan Arango and Niko Kranjčar together. The two high-profile veterans rarely took the field together during the preseason.

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  • Anthony

    Cosmos, MUFC, Rowdies will be top 3 this year…4th up for grabs,

  • Kevin

    Anthony totally agree with you. And I think since the Cosmos came back their true rival has been Minnesota. Solid matches when they play each other every time.

  • Miami Fusion Fan

    Lets send Minnessota FC United Sporting Real packing to super league MLS with a few big losses from cosmos country.
    Bring back the Minnessota kicks!!!!

  • Smurf040

    **** MUfc! They want to be in MLS? They can finish dead last

  • OoenCupFan

    You guys need to stop sleeping on the Strikers.
    .
    Support your local INDEPENDENT soccer CLUBS!!!

    • Anthony

      Not sleeping on them, but they had huge roster turnover this offseason so they are an unknown quantity this year.

  • alex gago

    I’m Striker fan …the season will be long one we will make the playoffs it will be tough this I expect Minnesota with Fort Lauderdale in the final fall.