NASL Week 2 Preview: Jacksonville Enters the Fray

IMAGE, NY COSMOS

by JAKE NUTTING

The second week of the North American Soccer League’s Spring Season will see the highly anticipated debut of the revamped Jacksonville Armada FC under first-time head coach Tony Meola.

The former U.S. national team captain will lead his team from the sidelines against former New York/New Jersey Metrostars teammate and current New York Cosmos head coach Gio Savarese.

Another important match up this weekend will be between FC Edmonton and Minnesota United FC. With heavy expectations weighing on this talented roster, the Loons are hoping to stabilize after falling 2-1 in their opener to the Carolina RailHawks. They’ll need to take down a well-organized Edmonton side north of the border if they want that positive result.

Indy Eleven host Ottawa Fury FC, Saturday April 9, 7:30 p.m. ET (beIN Sports)

Ottawa Fury FC will have some familiar faces looking back at them when they take the field in Indianapolis this weekend. Stalwarts from last year’s Fall Season championship squad like centerback Colin Falvey as well as midfielders Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Nicki Patterson have all settled in with Indy this year. All three players were starters in Indy’s scoreless draw last weekend in Tampa Bay.

Both sides in this match will be hoping to improve on their attacking potency. Each team was at the bottom of the rankings in terms of serious threats on goal last week, with Indy only managing a single shot on frame and Ottawa only three in their loss to New York. Indy in particular will look to get Eamon Zayed involved more after the forward recorded merely three touches inside the box last week.

Miami FC host Tampa Bay Rowdies, Saturday April 9, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

After opening their inaugural season against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Miami FC turns their sights on another intrastate rival for their home opener at FIU Stadium. The expansions side showed its inexperience last week with a whopping 26 fouls conceded, including a 45th minute second yellow card ejection for Jorge Luis Corrales and a penalty in stoppage time to drop all three points. After sitting out the opening match entirely, former NASL Golden Boot winner Pablo Campos could be in line for minutes after forwards Dario Cvitanich and Jaime Chavez combined for a disappointing half dozen touches inside the box.

From the Rowdies perspective, they’ll hope to replicate much of what they did last week when they thoroughly dominated Indy in every category — apart from scoring chances. Heavy passes and hesitancy around the final third limited forward Tommy Heinemann to sparse looks on net.

Rayo OKC host Carolina RailHawks, Saturday April 9, 8 p.m. ET (ONE World Sports)

Thanks to an early red card for FC Edmonton last week, Rayo OKC was able to comfortably control their inaugural match. The Eddies bunkered down and allowed the home side to produce the highest passing accuracy rate in an opponent’s end on opening weekend (80%). They also got off 17 shots but were on target with four of them. Two of those shots on net were created by star striker Georgios Samaras, who is likely to continue on as a substitute as while works up his fitness.

OKC’s attack will be trying to break down a RailHawks defensive unit that looked much improved from last year. Buoyed by solid performances from midfielders James Marcelin and Alex Perez in front of the back line, the RailHawks held the hyped Minnesota attack to minimal looks at goal. Carolina’s Tiyi Shipalane and Nazmi Albadawi are also sure to give OKC’s back line a stiffer test than the one they got from the Eddies.

FC Edmonton host Minnesota United FC, Sunday April 10, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

The much vaunted Minnesota United attack was far from imposing in their loss to Carolina. Christian Ramirez kicked things off with a world class strike for a goal in his first touch of the year, but everything after that was a mighty struggle for the Loons in the attack. Ramirez looked isolated up top and they failed to work many passes into dangerous areas as the RailHawks clogged the midfield.

All eyes will be on what adjustments head coach Carl Craig makes this week after starting high-profile offseason pickups Stefano Pinho and Lance Laing on the bench.

The Loons could also be getting centerback Brent Kallman and midfielder Ibson back from injury as both players returned to full training this week. However, they will be without attacking midfielder Bernardo Anor due to his head injury.

The Eddies will be tasked with stopping a highly-motivated Minnesota attack a week after being forced to play most of their opener pinned down when captain Albert Watson picked an early red card. On paper, the Eddies are underdogs, but they’ve found surprising results against their Flyover Cup opponents in the past.

New York Cosmos host Jacksonville Armada FC, Sunday April 10, 6 p.m. ET (ONE World Sports)

After being forced to sit out the opening round of action of the season last week, Jacksonville and first-time head coach Tony Meola will finally make their debut. Meola has largely retooled a roster that finished dead last in the combined table last year, with USL standouts Matt Fondy, Tyler Ruthven and Bryan Burke all joining up for the new year. Former Ottawa Fury FC captain Richie Ryan is also poised to make a significant contribution for as a leader for Meola on the field.

Along with the additions comes the returns of dynamic attackers Alhassan Keita and Pascal Millien, who at times helped Jacksonville punch above their weight last year. They along with the new faces will line up against a Cosmos defensive unit that was surprisingly vulnerable in their opener against Ottawa. If Jacksonville can bring clinical finishing with them on Sunday, they might be able to exploit potential defensive miscues New York.