NASL Notes: NYCFC player tops new Rayo OKC signings, more

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by JAKE NUTTING

With little time to spare before their preseason match against MLS’ side Houston Dynamo in February, expansion club Rayo OKC finally unveiled their first player signings.

Midfielders Sabastian Velásquez and Pecka, as well as defender Rauwshan McKenzie, were announced as the first signings in club history.

Velásquez joins OKC after representing MLS side NYCFC in its inaugural season. Last season was a turbulent year both on and off the field for the 24-year-old midfielder, who entered MLS’ Substance Abuse Program in September. He made six starts for the club early on, but saw his playing time cut in the summer and made no appearances after entering rehab. Prior to his season in New York, Velásquez showed flashes of promise in his three years at Real Salt Lake.

Pecka is a Brazilian defensive midfielder who has impressed in the NASL in the past. During his three seasons with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the 26-year-old made 60 appearances and was a mainstay of the side. He was an integral part of the club that made it all the way to the championship final before losing to San Antonio. Pecka signed with Real Salt Lake in 2015 but failed to gain traction and languished on the depth chart.

McKenzie, 29, is a physically imposing defender coming off a successful season with the Atlanta Silverbacks, starting 29 matches on a back line that many clubs found nearly impossible to break down for long stretches of the season. Prior to joining Atlanta, McKenzie was a MLS journeyman, spending time with Portland, Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake and Kansas City.

Carolina RailHawks

Newly installed Carolina RailHawks owner Steve Malik demonstrated his commitment to stabilizing the club again with the re-signing of promising attacker Nazmi Albadawi to a multi-year contract. Albadawi, 24, had a stellar sophomore season after making his professional debut in 2014. The Raleigh native started 23 matches for Carolina RailHawks last year, notching six goals and three assists before being sidelined in the final month of the season with injury.

Carolina’s front office also secured the return of another RailHawk, though one that had been away from the club for several years. English-born midfielder Matt Watson has rejoined the club that he was a part of before the formation of the modern NASL. In his four previous years in Carolina, Watson made over 100 appearances in midfield and was a key part in the team claiming the regular season title in the NASL’s inaugural 2011 season. Watson made the jump to the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS with former Carolina head coach Martin Rennie in 2012. After two seasons with the Whitecaps, Watson joined up with the Chicago Fire in 2014.

Jacksonville Armada FC

An alumnus of the Atlanta Silverbacks found a new home in the NASL this week as Jacksonville Armada FC announced the signing of Honduran midfielder Junior Sandoval. The attacking midfielder is fresh off of a season with Jaguares de Córdoba in the Colombian first division, where he made 14 appearances and netted a goal. Sandoval, 25, also played for the defunct Puerto Rico Islanders in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, he moved on to one of the most prestigious club in his home country, CD Marathon, and made 14 appearances, including a group stage match of the CONCACAF Champions League. In his final year with the Silverbacks in 2014, Sandoval was the club’s second-highest scorer, with seven goals in 24 appearances.

Ottawa Fury FC

No club had a busier week than the one that calls the Canadian capital home. After Monday’s announcement that Northern Ireland international Jonny Steele has joined the club, Ottawa Fury FC added five more players to the roster.

Kyle Porter, another ex-Atlanta Silverbacks player, found a new spot in the NASL with Ottawa this week. The move is a homecoming of sorts though, as Porter was born in Toronto and also played two seasons for FC Edmonton. After his spell with the Eddies, the 25-year-old forward, moved to D.C. United in MLS, where he made a little more than 30 appearances and netted three goals in two seasons. In his one season with the Silverbacks, Porter appeared in 29 matches and scored two goals.

Ottawa made a move to shore up its midfield with the addition of James Bailey, an experienced box-to-box midfielder who has experience at several levels of English soccer. Bailey, 27, became a regular at Derby County in the country’s second division before two loan spells at Coventry in the third division. His last year in England was spent at Barnsley in the fourth tier. The Englishman made a move abroad to the Indian Super League in 2015, where he appearied eight times for Pune City FC.

Fury FC also addressed both sides of its back line with the signings of Onua Thomas Obasi and Rich Balchan. Obasi moves to Ottawa after helping lead the Rochester Rhinos to the USL championship in 2015 from the left back position. Balchan is a former first round pick of the MLS Superdraft who spent last season with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, where he appeared in 15 matches as a right back.

Indy Eleven

Ottawa Fury FC added a handful of players this week, but the club also had to say goodbye to one of its top performers from last year. Indy Eleven swiped star center back Colin Falvey from Fury FC through a transfer this week, adding one of the best defenders in the NASL. The 30-yeard-old Irishman started every competitive match for Ottawa in 2015 and helped ensure the club conceded the fewest goals in the regular season (23). Falvey is also a veteran of the USL, where he served as captain of the Charleston Battery for several years and also represented the Wilmington Hammerheads.

Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC revealed this week that fan-favorite midfielder Jamie Watson has signed a contract extension to remain with the club. Watson, 29, is veteran of North American soccer who had brief stints in MLS with Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas at the start of his career, but has primarily spent the bulk of his time in USL and more recently the NASL. He joined Minnesota on loan from Orlando City in 2014 and signed a permanent contract ahead of the 2015 season. His first full year with the Loons was cut short when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL early in the Spring Season.