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The American/Canadian second division, the North American Soccer League, kicks off in two days. Here's my preview for those who want to learn a little more.

Whether you knew it or not, the North American Soccer League (NASL), America's second division, is kicking off in two days' time. There's been a whirlwind of activity in the preseason, with new teams coming in, broadcast deals being signed, and recognizable players joining up. I'm someone who follows the league pretty closely, and while I'm certainly not an expert analyst, I've taken some time to put together a capsule for each club competing to provide a brief introduction to the league.
With that said, a quick overview of the NASL and its structure: The NASL is the second tier of U.S./Canadian soccer, having formed in 2011 after breaking away from the USL First Division. It is in no way connected to MLS. Twelve teams will compete in 2016 across two seasons - Spring and Fall. The Spring Season, being previewed here, consists of 10 games and will only feature 11 teams (Puerto Rico FC enters in the Fall). The Fall Season starts in July and will consist of 22 games. At the conclusion of the Fall Season, four teams - the Spring and Fall Season winners, along with the two remaining teams with the best overall records - will enter the Championship playoffs for a chance to win the Soccer Bowl Trophy.
For a short recap on last season, you could watch my attempt at making a season review video. Oh, and be sure to check out /NASLSoccer! I'm over there a lot, and it's a good place to learn more.
Got it? Alright, let’s get started.
Team Name: Carolina RailHawks
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Manager: Colin Clarke
Stadium: WakeMed Soccer Park
History: Founded in 2006, Carolina was one of the breakaway members from the USL First Division that formed the NASL. The team's name is mean to represent both the rail lines that run directly across from the field and the hawks that are indigenous to the area. The RailHawks play their home games at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. In 2015, the RailHawks' owners, Traffic Sports, were indicted in a FIFA corruption scandal, leading to the sale of the club to local tech entrepreneur Stephen Malik.
2015 In Review: Carolina got off to a promising start in the spring, taking 14 points from 10 games and winning a 3rd place finish in the standings. Led by the creativity in the midfield of club legend Tiyi Shipalane and the goals up front from former Rangers striker Nacho Novo, the RailHawks picked up some good results at the beginning of the Fall Season as well. From that point, though, the wheels came off, particularly in road matches. Out of 10 away matches in the Fall, Carolina took just a single point. In the end, the result was 7th place in the Fall, and 6th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: The RailHawks marked their 10th anniversary in style off the field, inking a local TV deal, making stadium upgrades, and promising higher investment in the club. They doubled down on their commitment by re-signing club captain Connor Tobin as well as key players Tiyi Shipalane and Nazmi Albadawi. Then, they cleaned up by signing several high-level players, such as NASL Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, and former RailHawks Matt Watson and Akira Fitzgerald, who had most recently spent time in MLS. Carolina are the perfect example of a revamped and growing NASL: They've found a new owner who is excited and willing to spend, and they've invested all around the club and have reloaded their roster. Expect the RailHawks to challenge from right out of the gate in 2016.
Key Players: Ty Shipalane, MF; Connor Tobin, MF; Nazmi Albadawi, MF
One to Watch: Marvin Ceballos, MF. The Guatemalan international has been described as a "natural #10" by manager Colin Clarke and has the potential to be a breakout star for Carolina this year.
Predicted Finish: 4th. I think they fly under the radar as a well put-together team, and pressure from FIFA scandal gone. This prediction could blow up in my face.
Team Name: FC Edmonton
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Manager: Colin Miller
Stadium: Clarke Stadium
History: Edmonton is a growing team, having only formed in 2010, just in time for the first NASL season. The Eddies are slight rivals with Minnesota United, participating in the Flyover Cup and raising money for charities together. Edmonton is currently the furthest west of all NASL teams, and has struggled with attendance figures as well as play on the field. Their best season finish was 5th place, and the closest they've been to a championship was the league's quarterfinals in its first year of existence.
2015 In Review: Despite progress made in 2014, things turned south for the league's northernmost club in the Spring Season of 2015. Two wins meant a 10th place finish out of 11. The Eddies' relief came in the form of a Canadian Championship cup run, in which they came inches away from defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the semifinal, only to be knocked out by a goal in the last seconds of stoppage time. In the fall, results picked up for Edmonton. Lance Laing marked his record third appearance in the league's Best XI with eight goals and seven assists throughout the Spring and Fall Seasons, but the team suffered when he was on international duty with Jamaica. The team's playoff hopes fell away during the final five games of the season, during which they found only one point. FC Edmonton finished 5th in the Fall and 7th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: Edmonton would seem to be in a spot of trouble. Over the offseason, winger Lance Laing, who put the Eddies on his back at times, left to join Minnesota United. So, FC Edmonton made some changes. In the front office, they added Jay Ball as general manager; Ball played a significant role in the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. On the field, they brought back Daryl Fordyce, the club's all-time leading scorer, and made a splash by signing Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood from Germany. Manager Colin Miller called it the most promising offseason in club history, and proceeded to sign the Senegalese center back Papé Diakité and Jake Keegan, 2nd-top scorer in the League of Ireland last season. With the roster set, Edmonton toured Great Britain, showing well in several friendly across the pond. With a lackluster history and a star player missing, Edmonton will look to defy the odds in 2016.
Key Players: Albert Watson, DF; Daryl Fordyce, FW; Nik Ledgerwood, DF/MF
One to Watch: Allan Zebie, MF. An FC Edmonton youth product and Canada youth international, Zebie, only 22, has established himself as the Eddies' regular right back. This year, he could move to a whole new level.
Predicted Finish: 6th. Laing is gone, but most of the roster returns, aided by savvy signings.
Team Name: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Manager: Caio Zanardi
Stadium: Lockhart Stadium
History: As one of the members of the original NASL, the Strikers have a history dating back to 1977. The team signed some of the world's finest players, including Gordon Banks, George Best, and Gerd Müller. After moving to Minnesota, a second Strikers team popped up in Fort Lauderdale in 1988, playing for six years in the American Soccer League (ASL) and the American Professional Soccer League (APSL). The current incarnation, founded in 2006 as Miami FC, rebranded into the Strikers before the first season of the new NASL. In 2014, after a loss in the NASL final, the club made international headlines when Brazilian legend Ronaldo joined their ownership group. In 2015, the low-budget club shocked the league by once again making the playoffs.
2015 In Review: Following the Spring Season, there weren't many optimists left in the Strikers camp. After dumping most of 2014's star players (Fafà Picault, their star player, went to Europe; Pecka moved to Real Salt Lake), the firing of head coach Günter Kronsteiner, and the flop of much-hyped signing Leo Moura, Fort Lauderdale limped to an 8th place finish in the Spring. The Fall was a different story. After re-signing Kronsteiner, a young Strikers team turned it all around. Fluminense loanees Marlon Freitas and Stefano Pinho shined, with Pinho topping the NASL scoring charts and winning the league MVP award. James Marcelin joined Pinho in the league's Best XI, and midfielder PC just missed out. The Strikers finished 4th in the Fall, and a win against Jacksonville on the last day propelled them to 4th in the overall standings as well, giving them a semifinals spot. The fairy tale ended in New York, with the Cosmos coming from behind to win 2-1 en route to the NASL Championship game.
2016 Preview: For the past two years, Fort Lauderdale has been the surprise team of the league. This year, the rest of the NASL will be as prepared as they can, but the Strikers still present a bit of a mystery. After squeezing into the playoffs in 2015, the team once again dismantled its roster, letting go of manager Günter Kronsteiner (again), watching the league's MVP and top scorer Stefano Pinho leave for Minnesota, and parting ways with Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, who signed with Carolina.
In response, Fort Lauderdale ramped up operations: They created a reserve team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), announced a whole wave of staff appointments, expanded partnerships and advertisements, got a TV deal, hosted an international tournament, and toured China. They also made some big-name signings, inking World Cup winner Kléberson, Brazilian veterans Adrianinho & Bruno Cardoso, U.S. youth internationals and UEFA Champions League-experienced players. And they unveiled their new jerseys on a yacht. Yeah, what can I say? The Strikers have big ambitions, and they've moved on from being a low-budget side that scraped past other teams. So will new investment bring more success? We'll have to see.
Key Players: Kléberson, MF; PC MF; Adrianinho, MF
One to Watch: Matheus Carvalho, FW. Carvalho has a solid pedigree, having played a few minutes for Monaco in last year's UEFA Champions League. It's possible he could be a welcome surprise in South Florida.
Predicted Finish: 7th. So much change on this roster, and several star players past their primes.
Team Name: Indy Eleven
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Manager: Tim Hankinson
Stadium: Carroll Stadium
History: After years of calls for a professional soccer team in Indianapolis from the Brickyard Battalion (the Eleven's main supporter group), the dream was finally realized in 2013. That year, legendary American soccer executive Peter Wilt announced that he would become the president of Indy Eleven, a team that started play in 2014. Despite struggles on the field, Indy Eleven became the first American soccer team to sell out all its home games in its inaugural home season. Wilt left on good terms in 2016 to pursue a Chicago NASL project.
2015 In Review: After a disappointing first year on the field, things didn't get much better in 2015 for Indy Eleven, though they did once again lead the league in attendance. Star player Kléberson picked up a season-ending achilles injury, and the Eleven won only one in their first eight matches. That record, combined with an embarrassing U.S. Open Cup defeat at home to USL's Louisville City FC, led to the firing of head coach Juergen Sommer. His replacement, interim coach Tim Regan, won the final two games to elevate Indy to 5th in the Spring. However, any playoff aspirations fell away in the Fall, as a string of bad results climaxed with a 7-1 loss in Fort Lauderdale en route to a 9th place finish in the Fall Season and combined standings. Indy could find a silver lining with the strong performances of several youngsters, such as Dylan Mares and Duke Lacroix.
2016 Preview: With one of the largest fanbases in the league and some of the worst performances, Indy are under pressure to finally turn around its performance. To start, they stripped down most of the team to just a couple of players, and hired long-time manager Tim Hankinson to construct a rebuild. Hankinson piled on MLS experience, inking Jon Busch, Siniša Ubiparipović, Justin Braun, Lovel Palmer, and Gorka Larrea, among others. Preseason did not go well, with most friendlies ending in defeat or stalemate to lower-division and university teams, and several players picking up injuries. That said, this Eleven squad is better than any other that has taken the field, and have a good mix of senior players and up-and-comers that are ready to deliver.
Key Players: Dylan Mares, MF; Brad Ring, MF; Siniša Ubiparipović, MF
One to Watch: Duke Lacroix, FW. It's time to meet the 22-year-old forward every soccer fan in Indianapolis is talking about. Lacroix got a chance last year, and electrified on the wing. This season, he'll hope to earn a starting job.
Predicted Finish: 8th. If one of the new central striker signings turns good, they'll have a real chance in this league. If not? Expect the same as before.
Team Name: Jacksonville Armada FC
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Manager: Tony Meola
Stadium: Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville
History: Announced on July 25, 2013, Jacksonville's team was christened as Armada FC on February 18, 2014. The Armada was the only expansion side to join the league in 2015, lead by the ownership collective Sunshine Soccer Group and club president Steve Livingstone. The team chose to play at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and quickly established themselves in the top tier of NASL attendances, although they didn't do as well on the field.
2015 In Review: Jacksonville got off to a fast start, with Jemal Johnson scoring seconds into their first game as the Armada went on to win three out of its first five. That was the best run of form the team would see all year. After finishing a respectable 6th in the Spring, the Armada fell into a slump, finishing last both in the Fall Season and combined table. The team fired its first manager, José Luis Villarreal, after attempting to give him a co-managerial role with Guillermo Hoyos. The club later fired Hoyos after giving him a contract through 2019 months earlier.
2016 Preview: The Armada began their offseason with a big statement of intention, hiring former USA goalkeeper Tony Meola as head coach. After an unsuccessful inaugural year, much of 2015's roster did not make it back. Instead, Jacksonville refined it by looking to the lower leagues. They signed NASL Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan, USL MVP Matt Fondy, and USL Defender of the Year Bryan Burke, in effect establishing a small collection of some of the best players below MLS last season. Just before the season began, the Armada suffered a blow as young standout Akeil Barrett transferred to the Swedish second division. Yet, after a preseason that included promising signings and friendlies, Jacksonville seem ready to move up the table.
Key Players: Alhassane Keita, FW; Mechak Jérôme, DF; Matt Fondy, FW
One to Watch: Charles Eloundou, FW. Once a highly-touted prospect, Eloundou, 21, saw his career stall with the Colorado Rapids (MLS). Now settled in Jacksonville, this year may be his opportunity to shine.
Predicted Finish: 9th. Good first steps, but still a lot to do after finishing bottom of the table last year.
Team Name: Miami FC
Location: Miami, Florida
Manager: Alessandro Nesta
Stadium: FIU Stadium
History: Unrelated to the original Miami FC (now the Fort Lauderdale Strikers), this team was founded in 2015 and kicked off in 2016. Miami attracted international attention with its ownership (entrepreneur Riccardo Silva and former Italy legend Paolo Maldini) as well as its first head coach (Maldini's Italy teammate Alessandro Nesta). The team began play at FIU Stadium.
2016 Preview: Expansion teams are often an enigma, and the organization of Miami FC is no different. Founded in the eye of a storm of MLS rumors (Miami Beckham United FC?), the brains behind Miami FC will likely want to get off to a running start in order to attract the sort of attention with soccer fans that can make them viable in the city and sustainable into the future. To that end, Miami brought in two star: Dario Cvitanich, who has scored goals and seen success with big clubs all over the world, and Wilson Palacios, the English Premier League veteran with nearly 100 Honduras caps under his belt. Mostly, though, the roster is filled out by players with NASL experience (Pablo Campos, Jaimé Chavez, etc.) and up-and-comers looking to make a name for themselves. In many ways, this is a similar approach that other past expansion teams have taken, with mixed results. The real question for 2016 might be just how well Miami FC establishes a fanbase in an unknown market.
Key Players: Wilson Palacios, MF; Darío Cvitanich, FW; Matuzalem, MF
One to Watch: Blake Smith, MF. Making his return to North American soccer after a year in hiatus, Smith is an unknown quantity. However, if he re-creates the kind of success he saw in Montreal and Indy, he could be a vital part of Miami's attack.
Predicted Finish: 11th. Similar construction as previous expansion teams may yield similar results.
Team Name: Minnesota United FC
Location: Blaine, Minnesota
Manager: Carl Craig
Stadium: National Sports Center
History: Professional soccer in Minnesota began with the Minnesota Kicks of the old NASL, but Minnesota has had a continuous presence of professional soccer since the founding of the Minnesota Thunder in 1990. When that team folded due to the financial shadiness of owner Dean Johnson, a new series of teams all slightly related to one another emerged. The NSC Minnesota Stars were launched in 2010, but the ownership of National Sports Center in Blaine, MN lasted only a season before the NASL took over the team. In 2011, the Stars won the Soccer Bowl for the first time in the new era of the NASL. In 2012, the team rebranded as Minnesota Stars FC and again went to the final, where they lost to Tampa Bay in penalties. The team was league-owned at the time and many fans and players thought that without a win in the final (thinking the league wouldn't dare let its champion fold), the team would no longer have a future. However, after the crushing loss, news began to leak out that the team had found an owner. In 2013, Dr. Bill McGuire (formerly of United Healthcare Group) purchased the Minnesota Stars and rebranded them as Minnesota United FC.
The team is supported by the Dark Clouds, a supporters group founded in the Thunder days. They are known for their bizarre brand of "Jackassery," which is ecstatic support that opposes macho, wannabe hooliganism. They have a gameday zine called the Jackassery Times-Heckler and worship the god DETHLOON. The club announced a move to Major League Soccer in 2017 or 2018, pending the construction of a downtown stadium.
2015 In Review: Buoyed off the field by an MLS expansion announcement, Minnesota continued to show stellar performances on it. Although star player Miguel Ibarra transferred to Mexican club Léon, replacements brought in (including Ibson and Khalif Alhassan) proved to be up to the challenge. A fourth place finish in the Spring was strong, if not ideal. In the Fall, an incredible run of eight wins in 10 matches led to a 2nd place finish. United were 3rd in the overall standings, and Christian Ramirez scored the second-most goals in the league, just missing a second consecutive Golden Boot. In their playoff semifinal in Ottawa, Ramirez's penalty gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead, but an equalizer and extra time winner from opposition forward Tom Heinemann led to an end to their season.
2016 Preview: This could be Minnesota's last year in the NASL, and they're offseason move show a determination to leave with a trophy in both hands. In preparation for the move to MLS, Manny Lagos (manager since 2010) became Sporting Director, and assistant Carl Craig moved up to become head coach. The team returns all four of its Best XI players from 2015: Justin Davis, Ibson, Christian Ramirez, and Kevin Venegas. It made further inroads by signing two other Best XI members: Lance Laing, who carried FC Edmonton and became a regular with Jamaica, and Stefano Pinho, who was named the league's best player and won the Golden Boot with Fort Lauderdale. Is there any stopping this team? Well, while United obviously has an unparalleled attack, there are questions on the defensive side, with the team having lost preseason games 0-4, 0-4, and 1-3 to MLS sides. If defense does not turn out to be a problem, though, this is a side that could really challenge for both the league title and a position deep in the U.S. Open Cup.
Key Players: Christian Ramirez, FW; Stefano Pinho, FW; Justin Davis, DF
One to Watch: Greg Jordan, MF. Minnesota are clearly looking for MLS-ready players this year, and Greg Jordan could be a sleeper pick to move up with them. Since falling out of favor in Philadelphia, he's had a dependable two seasons with the Loons, and will look to step up his game in 2016.
Predicted Finish: 3rd. May take some time for new players to settle, and who know how MLS move will divert their focus, but they'll be competitive no matter what.
Team Name: New York Cosmos
Location: Hempstead, New York
Manager: Giovanni Savarese
Stadium: Shuart Stadium
History: The New York Cosmos brand is one of the greatest in all of world soccer, and their teams in the original NASL were arguably better than any American sides that have come before or since. Centered around players like Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, and of course, the legendary Pelé, New York won five Soccer Bowls and became a global phenomenon. Since the team folded, there have been many attempts to revive it. This one is the first to get a real team on the field. The modern iteration of the Cosmos kicked off in the Fall Season of 2013, won the championship the same year, and won it again in 2015 with Real Madrid legend Raúl.
2015 In Review: After announcing the signing of illustrious Spanish forward Raúl, the Cosmos cemented their place as the biggest spenders with the biggest names in the NASL. 2015 marked the final seasons for Raúl and fellow former Spanish international Marcos Senna, and New York looked to send them off with a storybook ending. In the Spring Season, everything went to plan, with the Cosmos winning the title by a point and securing a playoff spot early. A high point came in the team's U.S. Open Cup victory over New York City FC on penalties, though they would later be knocked out by the New York Red Bulls. The Cosmos stayed strong in the Fall with a 3rd place finish, benefitting through performances from NASL Young Player of the Year Leo Fernandes (on loan from Philadelphia Union) and team MVP Ayoze. The Cosmos won the combined season with 56 points, edging Ottawa on goal differential. In the semifinal, the Cosmos came from behind to beat Fort Lauderdale 2-1. Hosting the Championship, relatively new signing Gastón Cellerino scored a hat trick in a 3-2 victory as Raúl and Senna lifted their final trophy.
2016 Preview: With the retirement of Raúl and Marcos Senna, the departure of star winger Walter Restrepo and formerly on-loan Leo Fernandes (both to Philadelphia), and the exit of championship hero Gastón Cellerino, this could have been a transition year for New York. But the New York Cosmos don't rebuild. They reload. This offseason, the Cosmos put together one of the most stunning collections of signings this league has ever seen. To recap: The two biggest names are Niko Kranjčar and Juan Arango, both vastly experienced players who have played at the very top of world soccer; senior internationals include Jairo Arrieta (Costa Rica), David Ochieng (Kenya), Michael Lahoud (Sierra Leone), Yohandry Orozco (Venezuela), and Yasmani Duk; other signings include Gabriel Farfan (MLS/Liga MX experience) and two U.S. youth internationals. On paper, it is hard to argue any team is better than the Cosmos. How the pieces of the puzzle come together is the only question left.
Key Players: Danny Szetela, MF; Niko Kranjčar, MF; Juan Arango, MF
One to Watch: Yohandry Orozco, MF. So, get this, right? There's player in his prime, who plays regularly for his country, had experience with Wolfsburg, and he's coming to the NASL? You'd better believe it, and Orozco has all the skills to make a huge impact.
Predicted Finish: 1st. I've been wrong before with this team, but there's just too much talent to deny.
Team Name: Ottawa Fury FC
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Manager: Paul Dalglish
Stadium: TD Place Stadium
History: A longtime candidate for expansion, Ottawa was welcomed into the league in 2011, with the Ottawa Fury name being decided in 2013. The Fury were a fromer PDL franchise, and brought a history of support with it. The club shares a new stadium (as well as ownership) with the Canadian Football League Ottawa RedBlacks. In 2015, the team surged to the Championship final, but lost to the New York Cosmos.
2015 In Review: Few would have predicted Ottawa Fury's run to the NASL Championship after the Fall Season. Despite making a splash by bringing in Canadian international Julian De Guzman, the results failed to come, and the Fury found themselves in 9th place. In the Fall, though, coach Marc Dos Santos' plan clicked. A back line marshaled by NASL Best XI goalkeeper Romuald Peiser and defender Rafael Alves recorded eight shutouts, and an offense led by the connection between midfielder Siniša Ubiparipović (eight assists total) and forward Tom Heinemann (12 goals total) resulted in one loss in 20 games, and a Fall Season title. Heinemann's two goals in the semifinal knocked out Minnesota United, but the Fury ultimately fell short of the Championship in New York, losing 3-2 to the New York Cosmos.
2016 Preview: After falling short in the Championship, the Ottawa Fury had the offseason from Hell. First, Manager of the Year Marc Dos Santos left to be an assistant and reserve team coach for Sporting Kansas City (MLS). Then, many of the key players in the run to the final chose to part ways: Tom Heinemann, who scored every playoff goal, went to Tampa Bay; Colin Falvey, Ryan Richter, and Mason Trafford, who all started on the back line in the Championship, moved on; Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan left for Jacksonvile, playmaker Siniša Ubiparipović went to Indy, and starting winger Andrew Wiedeman moved to Cinicinnati in USL. Reinforcements have come, mostly in the form of other lower league players, but almost all will have to prove themselves before being considered adequate replacements. If I have to pick one out, the signing to keep an eye on will be Marcel De Jong, the Canadian international brought in who should play as a left back. The Fury will also be bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Romuald Peiser, who won the league's Golden Glove in 2015 and was named /NASLSoccer's player of the year.
Key Players: Julian de Guzman, MF; Rafael Alves, DF; Romuald Peiser, GK
One to Watch: Mauro Eustáquio, MF. Last year, Eustáquio impressed in the midfield when filling in for injured players. With so many departures, the youngster now has a chance to play well and force his way onto the Canadian national team.
Predicted Finish: 10th. This team got completely picked apart in the offseason. They could turn out okay, but they'll have work to do to prove me wrong.
Team Name: Rayo OKC
Location: Yukon, Oklahoma
Manager: Alen Marcina
Stadium: Miller Stadium
History: A fierce battle between the NASL and USL PRO for a team in Oklahoma City ended with both leagues announcing expansions in the city. The USL put together Oklahoma Energy FC in 2013. Meanwhile, the owners of Oklahoma City FC, a Premier Development League (PDL) team, decided to run an NASL side, but an ownership group breakup in 2014 caused a delay to the project. Eventually, Spanish La Liga club Rayo Vallecano partnered with the organization to form what is now known as Rayo OKC. The team name was announced in November 2015, and began play at Miller Stadium in 2016.
**2016 Preview: As much of an enigma I've said Miami FC have been as an expansion team, it's safe to say Rayo OKC have been even more of a mystery. The organization was derided at first, dismissed due to the involvement from a struggling foreign team and its juxtaposition to the already-successful Energy. However, its initial roster has made fans sit up and take notice. Five World Cup veterans and nine national team players headline the squad, which includes illustrious Greek striker Georgios Samaras. Rayo has built its team using players with experience in European leagues (say, Yuma and Juanan) and players who have found success in MLS (Michel, Sebastian Velasquez) and the NASL (Billy Forbes, Erick Norales). Expansion teams typically take time to fare well, but if there's any that might have a chance at making a first impression by challenging for a title, this could be the one.
Key Players: Robbie Findley, FW; Derek Boateng, MF; Georgios Samaras, FW
One to Watch: Billy Forbes, FW. Over the past two years, Billy Forbes has become the breakout sensation of the league with the San Antonio Scorpions. With the Scorpions dissolving, Rayo OKC won their most prized asset in Forbes, who should certainly get a look-in from former San Antonio coach Alen Marcina.
Predicted Finish: 5th. So much talent, but need to build some chemistry and fan support.
Team Name: Tampa Bay Rowdies
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Manager: Stuart Campbell
Stadium: Al Lang Stadium
History: An original NASL team, the Rowdies won a championship in their first year (1975) and continued to impress until the league collapsed in 1985. The Rowdies kept playing in lower leagues until 1993. In 2008, the team was reborn again, with the vision of recreating its old glory days. However, because of legal problems, the team simply went by FC Tampa Bay until 2012, when the old moniker returned, along with a Soccer Bowl title won on penalties over Minnesota Stars FC. In 2014, the team was purchased by St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, who promised to take the Rowdies to the next level.
2015 In Review: Following a frustrating 2014 season, manager Ricky Hill got the boot, and the Rowdies began building a new roster with the prolific coach Thomas Rongen. Under Rongen, the ball started to roll, and the Rowdies finished 2nd in the Spring Season, just one point behind the New York Cosmos. In July, Tampa Bay made waves by signing former U.S. international Freddy Adu. However, the Fall Season got off to a rough start. After securing only seven points in eight games, Rowdies owner Bill Edwards fired Rongen and general manager Farrukh Quraishi. Under new manager Stuart Campbell, Tampa Bay fell further, eventually finishing 8th in the Fall and 5th overall, missing out on the playoffs by just two points.
2016 Preview: In the third year of the Bill Edwards era, Tampa Bay is under big pressure to finally make the playoffs. The Rowdies haven't been the loudest team in the offseason, and have perhaps been overshadowed by some of their neighbors in Florida, but the transition from 2015 to 2016 has been smooth. Key players were re-signed, including defensive rock Tamika Mkandawire, Freddy Adu, and 2014 MVP Georgi Hristov. They bet big on bringing in Tom Heinemann, the striker who lit Ottawa's season on fire in the second half of 2015. And they brought in a good collection of supplementary players, such as Neil Collins (200+ games in the English Football League), Danny Mwanga (100+ MLS games) and Eric Avila (170+ MLS games). The Rowdies toured England in the preseason, scoring some impressive results (a draw with Stoke City; a win over Notts County). After an offseason that was, for once, not quite tumultuous, it may be Tampa's time to shine in 2016.
Key Players: Georgi Hristov, FW; Tom Heinemann, FW; Freddy Adu, MF
One to Watch: Darwin Espinal, FW. Only 21, Espinal is already having an impact on Honduran youth national teams. He's got several good forwards to compete with on this roster, but he could well become one of the best.
Predicted Finish: 2nd. This could be the year it all comes together for the Rowdies.
Predicted Spring Standings:
Place Club
#1 New York Cosmos
#2 Tampa Bay Rowdies
#3 Minnesota United FC
#4 Carolina RailHawks
#5 Rayo OKC
#6 FC Edmonton
#7 Fort Lauderdale Strikers
#8 Indy Eleven
#9 Jacksonville Armada FC
#10 Ottawa Fury FC
#11 Miami FC
Opening Weekend Schedule:
Saturday, April 2
Time (ET) Home Away U.S. TV
3:00 CAR MNU ESPN3
7:00 FTL MIA beIN
7:30 TBR IND OWS
8:00 OKC FCE ESPN3
Sunday, April 3
Time (ET) Home Away TV
6:00 NYC OTT OWS
To follow all the excitement and keep up with the latest news this season, make sure to visit and subscribe to /NASLSoccer - the home of the NASL on reddit. Feel free to add any comments or questions below.
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TheMonsieur's SupercalifragilisticUpbiparipovic NASL Spring Season Preview

Whether you knew it or not, the North American Soccer League (NASL), America's second division, is kicking off in two days' time. There's been a whirlwind of activity in the preseason, with new teams coming in, broadcast deals being signed, and recognizable players joining up. As someone who follows the league pretty closely, I've taken up the task of putting together a brief capsule for each club competing.
With that said, a quick overview of the league and its structure: The NASL is the second tier of U.S./Canadian soccer, having formed in 2011 after breaking away from the USL First Division. It is in no way connected to MLS. Twelve teams will compete in 2016 across two seasons - Spring and Fall. The Spring Season, being previewed here, consists of 10 games and will only feature 11 teams (Puerto Rico FC enters in the Fall). The Fall Season starts in July and will consist of 22 games. At the conclusion of the Fall Season, four teams - the Spring and Fall Season winners, along with the two remaining teams with the best overall records - will enter the Championship playoffs for a chance to win the Soccer Bowl Trophy.
For a short recap on last season, you could watch my poor attempt at making a video. Oh, and be sure to check out /NASLSoccer! I'm over there a lot, and it's a good place to learn more. We'll even be revealing a redesign tomorrow night just in time for the season!
I'm not an expert analyst, but hopefully this can provide a good introduction for you to each team.
Got it? Alright, let’s get started.
Team Name: Carolina RailHawks
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Manager: Colin Clarke
Stadium: WakeMed Soccer Park
History: Founded in 2006, Carolina was one of the breakaway members from the USL First Division that formed the NASL. The team's name is mean to represent both the rail lines that run directly across from the field and the hawks that are indigenous to the area. The RailHawks play their home games at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. In 2015, the RailHawks' owners, Traffic Sports, were indicted in a FIFA corruption scandal, leading to the sale of the club to local tech entrepreneur Stephen Malik.
2015 In Review: Carolina got off to a promising start in the spring, taking 14 points from 10 games and winning a 3rd place finish in the standings. Led by the creativity in the midfield of club legend Tiyi Shipalane and the goals up front from former Rangers striker Nacho Novo, the RailHawks picked up some good results at the beginning of the Fall Season as well. From that point, though, the wheels came off, particularly in road matches. Out of 10 away matches in the Fall, Carolina took just a single point. In the end, the result was 7th place in the Fall, and 6th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: The RailHawks marked their 10th anniversary in style off the field, inking a local TV deal, making stadium upgrades, and promising higher investment in the club. They doubled down on their commitment by re-signing club captain Connor Tobin as well as key players Tiyi Shipalane and Nazmi Albadawi. Then, they cleaned up by signing several high-level players, such as NASL Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, and former RailHawks Matt Watson and Akira Fitzgerald, who had most recently spent time in MLS. Carolina are the perfect example of a revamped and growing NASL: They've found a new owner who is excited and willing to spend, and they've invested all around the club and have reloaded their roster. Expect the RailHawks to challenge from right out of the gate in 2016.
Key Players: Ty Shipalane, MF; Connor Tobin, MF; Nazmi Albadawi, MF
One to Watch: Marvin Ceballos, MF. The Guatemalan international has been described as a "natural #10" by manager Colin Clarke and has the potential to be a breakout star for Carolina this year.
Predicted Finish: 4th. I think they fly under the radar as a well put-together team, and pressure from FIFA scandal gone. This prediction could blow up in my face.
Team Name: FC Edmonton
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Manager: Colin Miller
Stadium: Clarke Stadium
History: Edmonton is a growing team, having only formed in 2010, just in time for the first NASL season. The Eddies are slight rivals with Minnesota United, participating in the Flyover Cup and raising money for charities together. Edmonton is currently the furthest west of all NASL teams, and has struggled with attendance figures as well as play on the field. Their best season finish was 5th place, and the closest they've been to a championship was the league's quarterfinals in its first year of existence.
2015 In Review: Despite progress made in 2014, things turned south for the league's northernmost club in the Spring Season of 2015. Two wins meant a 10th place finish out of 11. The Eddies' relief came in the form of a Canadian Championship cup run, in which they came inches away from defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the semifinal, only to be knocked out by a goal in the last seconds of stoppage time. In the fall, results picked up for Edmonton. Lance Laing marked his record third appearance in the league's Best XI with eight goals and seven assists throughout the Spring and Fall Seasons, but the team suffered when he was on international duty with Jamaica. The team's playoff hopes fell away during the final five games of the season, during which they found only one point. FC Edmonton finished 5th in the Fall and 7th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: Edmonton would seem to be in a spot of trouble. Over the offseason, winger Lance Laing, who put the Eddies on his back at times, left to join Minnesota United. So, FC Edmonton made some changes. In the front office, they added Jay Ball as general manager; Ball played a significant role in the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. On the field, they brought back Daryl Fordyce, the club's all-time leading scorer, and made a splash by signing Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood from Germany. Manager Colin Miller called it the most promising offseason in club history, and proceeded to sign the Senegalese center back Papé Diakité and Jake Keegan, 2nd-top scorer in the League of Ireland last season. With the roster set, Edmonton toured Great Britain, showing well in several friendly across the pond. With a lackluster history and last year's star gone, Edmonton will look to defy the odds in 2016.
Key Players: Albert Watson, DF; Daryl Fordyce, FW; Nik Ledgerwood, DF/MF
One to Watch: Allan Zebie, MF. An FC Edmonton youth product and Canada youth international, Zebie, only 22, has established himself as the Eddies' regular right back. This year, he could move to a whole new level.
Predicted Finish: 6th. Laing is gone, but most of the roster returns, aided by savvy signings.
Team Name: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Manager: Caio Zanardi
Stadium: Lockhart Stadium
History: As one of the members of the original NASL, the Strikers have a history dating back to 1977. The team signed some of the world's finest players, including Gordon Banks, George Best, and Gerd Müller. After moving to Minnesota, a second Strikers team popped up in Fort Lauderdale in 1988, playing for six years in the American Soccer League (ASL) and the American Professional Soccer League (APSL). The current incarnation, founded in 2006 as Miami FC, rebranded into the Strikers before the first season of the new NASL. In 2014, after a loss in the NASL final, the club made international headlines when Brazilian legend Ronaldo joined their ownership group. In 2015, the low-budget club shocked the league by once again making the playoffs.
2015 In Review: Following the Spring Season, there weren't many optimists left in the Strikers camp. After dumping most of 2014's star players (Fafà Picault, their star player, went to Europe; Pecka moved to Real Salt Lake), the firing of head coach Günter Kronsteiner, and the flop of much-hyped signing Leo Moura, Fort Lauderdale limped to an 8th place finish in the Spring. The Fall was a different story. After re-signing Kronsteiner, a young Strikers team turned it all around. Fluminense loanees Marlon Freitas and Stefano Pinho shined, with Pinho topping the NASL scoring charts and winning the league MVP award. James Marcelin joined Pinho in the league's Best XI, and midfielder PC just missed out. The Strikers finished 4th in the Fall, and a win against Jacksonville on the last day propelled them to 4th in the overall standings as well, giving them a semifinals spot. The fairy tale ended in New York, with the Cosmos coming from behind to win 2-1 en route to the NASL Championship game.
2016 Preview: For the past two years, Fort Lauderdale has been the surprise team of the league. This year, the rest of the NASL will be as prepared as they can, but the Strikers still present a bit of a mystery. After squeezing into the playoffs in 2015, the team once again dismantled its roster, letting go of manager Günter Kronsteiner (again), watching the league's MVP and top scorer Stefano Pinho leave for Minnesota, and parting ways with Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, who signed with Carolina.
In response, Fort Lauderdale ramped up operations: They created a reserve team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), announced a whole wave of staff appointments, expanded partnerships and advertisements, got a TV deal, hosted an international tournament, and toured China. They also made some big-name signings, inking World Cup winner Kléberson, Brazilian veterans Adrianinho & Bruno Cardoso, U.S. youth internationals and UEFA Champions League-experienced players. And they unveiled their new jerseys on a yacht. Yeah, what can I say? The Strikers have big ambitions, and they've moved on from being a low-budget side that scraped past other teams. So will new investment bring more success? We'll have to see.
Key Players: Kléberson, MF; PC MF; Adrianinho, MF
One to Watch: Matheus Carvalho, FW. Carvalho has a solid pedigree, having played a few minutes for Monaco in last year's UEFA Champions League. It's possible he could be a welcome surprise in South Florida.
Predicted Finish: 7th. So much change on this roster, and several star players past their primes.
Team Name: Indy Eleven
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Manager: Tim Hankinson
Stadium: Carroll Stadium
History: After years of calls for a professional soccer team in Indianapolis from the Brickyard Battalion (the Eleven's main supporter group), the dream was finally realized in 2013. That year, legendary American soccer executive Peter Wilt announced that he would become the president of Indy Eleven, a team that started play in 2014. Despite struggles on the field, Indy Eleven became the first American soccer team to sell out all its home games in its inaugural home season. Wilt left on good terms in 2016 to pursue a Chicago NASL project.
2015 In Review: After a disappointing first year on the field, things didn't get much better in 2015 for Indy Eleven, though they did once again lead the league in attendance. Star player Kléberson picked up a season-ending achilles injury, and the Eleven won only one in their first eight matches. That record, combined with an embarrassing U.S. Open Cup defeat at home to USL's Louisville City FC, led to the firing of head coach Juergen Sommer. His replacement, interim coach Tim Regan, won the final two games to elevate Indy to 5th in the Spring. However, any playoff aspirations fell away in the Fall, as a string of bad results climaxed with a 7-1 loss in Fort Lauderdale en route to a 9th place finish in the Fall Season and combined standings. Indy could find a silver lining with the strong performances of several youngsters, such as Dylan Mares and Duke Lacroix.
2016 Preview: With one of the largest fanbases in the league and some of the worst performances, Indy are under pressure to finally turn around its performance. To start, they stripped down most of the team to just a couple of players, and hired long-time manager Tim Hankinson to construct a rebuild. Hankinson piled on MLS experience, inking Jon Busch, Siniša Ubiparipović, Justin Braun, Lovel Palmer, and Gorka Larrea, among others. Preseason did not go well, with most friendlies ending in defeat or stalemate to lower-division and university teams, and several players picking up injuries. That said, this Eleven squad is better than any other that has taken the field, and have a good mix of senior players and up-and-comers that are ready to deliver.
Key Players: Dylan Mares, MF; Brad Ring, MF; Siniša Ubiparipović, MF
One to Watch: Duke Lacroix, FW. It's time to meet the 22-year-old forward every soccer fan in Indianapolis is talking about. Lacroix got a chance last year, and electrified on the wing. This season, he'll hope to earn a starting job.
Predicted Finish: 8th. If one of the new central striker signings turns good, they'll have a real chance in this league. If not? Expect the same as before.
Team Name: Jacksonville Armada FC
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Manager: Tony Meola
Stadium: Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville
History: Announced on July 25, 2013, Jacksonville's team was christened as Armada FC on February 18, 2014. The Armada was the only expansion side to join the league in 2015, lead by the ownership collective Sunshine Soccer Group and club president Steve Livingstone. The team chose to play at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and quickly established themselves in the top tier of NASL attendances, although they didn't do as well on the field.
2015 In Review: Jacksonville got off to a fast start, with Jemal Johnson scoring seconds into their first game as the Armada went on to win three out of its first five. That was the best run of form the team would see all year. After finishing a respectable 6th in the Spring, the Armada fell into a slump, finishing last both in the Fall Season and combined table. The team fired its first manager, José Luis Villarreal, after attempting to give him a co-managerial role with Guillermo Hoyos. The club later fired Hoyos after giving him a contract through 2019 months earlier.
2016 Preview: The Armada began their offseason with a big statement of intention, hiring former USA goalkeeper Tony Meola as head coach. After an unsuccessful inaugural year, much of 2015's roster did not make it back. Instead, Jacksonville refined it by looking to the lower leagues. They signed NASL Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan, USL MVP Matt Fondy, and USL Defender of the Year Bryan Burke, in effect establishing a small collection of some of the best players below MLS last season. Just before the season began, the Armada suffered a blow as young standout Akeil Barrett transferred to the Swedish second division. Yet, after a preseason that included promising signings and friendlies, Jacksonville seem ready to move up the table.
Key Players: Alhassane Keita, FW; Mechak Jérôme, DF; Matt Fondy, FW
One to Watch: Charles Eloundou, FW. Once a highly-touted prospect, Eloundou, 21, saw his career stall with the Colorado Rapids (MLS). Now settled in Jacksonville, this year may be his opportunity to shine.
Predicted Finish: 9th. Good first steps, but still a lot to do after finishing bottom of the table last year.
Team Name: Miami FC
Location: Miami, Florida
Manager: Alessandro Nesta
Stadium: FIU Stadium
History: Unrelated to the original Miami FC (now the Fort Lauderdale Strikers), this team was founded in 2015 and kicked off in 2016. Miami attracted international attention with its ownership (entrepreneur Riccardo Silva and former Italy legend Paolo Maldini) as well as its first head coach (Maldini's Italy teammate Alessandro Nesta). The team began play at FIU Stadium.
2016 Preview: Expansion teams are often an enigma, and the organization of Miami FC is no different. Founded in the eye of a storm of MLS rumors (Miami Beckham United FC?), the brains behind Miami FC will likely want to get off to a running start in order to attract the sort of attention with soccer fans that can make them viable in the city and sustainable into the future. To that end, Miami brought in two star: Dario Cvitanich, who has scored goals and seen success with big clubs all over the world, and Wilson Palacios, the English Premier League veteran with nearly 100 Honduras caps under his belt. Mostly, though, the roster is filled out by players with NASL experience (Pablo Campos, Jaimé Chavez, etc.) and up-and-comers looking to make a name for themselves. In many ways, this is a similar approach that other past expansion teams have taken, with mixed results. The real question for 2016 might be just how well Miami FC establishes a fanbase in an unknown market.
Key Players: Wilson Palacios, MF; Darío Cvitanich, FW; Matuzalem, MF
One to Watch: Blake Smith, MF. Making his return to North American soccer after a year in hiatus, Smith is an unknown quantity. However, if he re-creates the kind of success he saw in Montreal and Indy, he could be a vital part of Miami's attack.
Predicted Finish: 11th. Similar construction as previous expansion teams may yield similar results.
Team Name: Minnesota United FC
Location: Blaine, Minnesota
Manager: Carl Craig
Stadium: National Sports Center
History: Professional soccer in Minnesota began with the Minnesota Kicks of the old NASL, but Minnesota has had a continuous presence of professional soccer since the founding of the Minnesota Thunder in 1990. When that team folded due to the financial shadiness of owner Dean Johnson, a new series of teams all slightly related to one another emerged. The NSC Minnesota Stars were launched in 2010, but the ownership of National Sports Center in Blaine, MN lasted only a season before the NASL took over the team. In 2011, the Stars won the Soccer Bowl for the first time in the new era of the NASL. In 2012, the team rebranded as Minnesota Stars FC and again went to the final, where they lost to Tampa Bay in penalties. The team was league-owned at the time and many fans and players thought that without a win in the final (thinking the league wouldn't dare let its champion fold), the team would no longer have a future. However, after the crushing loss, news began to leak out that the team had found an owner. In 2013, Dr. Bill McGuire (formerly of United Healthcare Group) purchased the Minnesota Stars and rebranded them as Minnesota United FC.
The team is supported by the Dark Clouds, a supporters group founded in the Thunder days. They are known for their bizarre brand of "Jackassery," which is ecstatic support that opposes macho, wannabe hooliganism. They have a gameday zine called the Jackassery Times-Heckler and worship the god DETHLOON. The club announced a move to Major League Soccer in 2017 or 2018, pending the construction of a downtown stadium.
2015 In Review: Buoyed off the field by an MLS expansion announcement, Minnesota continued to show stellar performances on it. Although star player Miguel Ibarra transferred to Mexican club Léon, replacements brought in (including Ibson and Khalif Alhassan) proved to be up to the challenge. A fourth place finish in the Spring was strong, if not ideal. In the Fall, an incredible run of eight wins in 10 matches led to a 2nd place finish. United were 3rd in the overall standings, and Christian Ramirez scored the second-most goals in the league, just missing a second consecutive Golden Boot. In their playoff semifinal in Ottawa, Ramirez's penalty gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead, but an equalizer and extra time winner from opposition forward Tom Heinemann led to an end to their season.
2016 Preview: This could be Minnesota's last year in the NASL, and they're offseason move show a determination to leave with a trophy in both hands. In preparation for the move to MLS, Manny Lagos (manager since 2010) became Sporting Director, and assistant Carl Craig moved up to become head coach. The team returns all four of its Best XI players from 2015: Justin Davis, Ibson, Christian Ramirez, and Kevin Venegas. It made further inroads by signing two other Best XI members: Lance Laing, who carried FC Edmonton and became a regular with Jamaica, and Stefano Pinho, who was named the league's best player and won the Golden Boot with Fort Lauderdale. Is there any stopping this team? Well, while United obviously has an unparalleled attack, there are questions on the defensive side, with the team having lost preseason games 0-4, 0-4, and 1-3 to MLS sides. If defense does not turn out to be a problem, though, this is a side that could really challenge for both the league title and a position deep in the U.S. Open Cup.
Key Players: Christian Ramirez, FW; Stefano Pinho, FW; Justin Davis, DF
One to Watch: Greg Jordan, MF. Minnesota are clearly looking for MLS-ready players this year, and Greg Jordan could be a sleeper pick to move up with them. Since falling out of favor in Philadelphia, he's had a dependable two seasons with the Loons, and will look to step up his game in 2016.
Predicted Finish: 3rd. May take some time for new players to settle, and who know how MLS move will divert their focus, but they'll be competitive no matter what.
Team Name: New York Cosmos
Location: Hempstead, New York
Manager: Giovanni Savarese
Stadium: Shuart Stadium
History: The New York Cosmos brand is one of the greatest in all of world soccer, and their teams in the original NASL were arguably better than any American sides that have come before or since. Centered around players like Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, and of course, the legendary Pelé, New York won five Soccer Bowls and became a global phenomenon. Since the team folded, there have been many attempts to revive it. This one is the first to get a real team on the field. The modern iteration of the Cosmos kicked off in the Fall Season of 2013, won the championship the same year, and won it again in 2015 with Real Madrid legend Raúl.
2015 In Review: After announcing the signing of illustrious Spanish forward Raúl, the Cosmos cemented their place as the biggest spenders with the biggest names in the NASL. 2015 marked the final seasons for Raúl and fellow former Spanish international Marcos Senna, and New York looked to send them off with a storybook ending. In the Spring Season, everything went to plan, with the Cosmos winning the title by a point and securing a playoff spot early. A high point came in the team's U.S. Open Cup victory over New York City FC on penalties, though they would later be knocked out by the New York Red Bulls. The Cosmos stayed strong in the Fall with a 3rd place finish, benefitting through performances from NASL Young Player of the Year Leo Fernandes (on loan from Philadelphia Union) and team MVP Ayoze. The Cosmos won the combined season with 56 points, edging Ottawa on goal differential. In the semifinal, the Cosmos came from behind to beat Fort Lauderdale 2-1. Hosting the Championship, relatively new signing Gastón Cellerino scored a hat trick in a 3-2 victory as Raúl and Senna lifted their final trophy.
2016 Preview: With the retirement of Raúl and Marcos Senna, the departure of star winger Walter Restrepo and formerly on-loan Leo Fernandes (both to Philadelphia), and the exit of championship hero Gastón Cellerino, this could have been a transition year for New York. But the New York Cosmos don't rebuild. They reload. This offseason, the Cosmos put together one of the most stunning collections of signings this league has ever seen. To recap: The two biggest names are Niko Kranjčar and Juan Arango, both vastly experienced players who have played at the very top of world soccer; senior internationals include Jairo Arrieta (Costa Rica), David Ochieng (Kenya), Michael Lahoud (Sierra Leone), Yohandry Orozco (Venezuela), and Yasmani Duk; other signings include Gabriel Farfan (MLS/Liga MX experience) and two U.S. youth internationals. On paper, it is hard to argue any team is better than the Cosmos. How the pieces of the puzzle come together is the only question left.
Key Players: Danny Szetela, MF; Niko Kranjčar, MF; Juan Arango, MF
One to Watch: Yohandry Orozco, MF. So, get this, right? There's player in his prime, who plays regularly for his country, had experience with Wolfsburg, and he's coming to the NASL? You'd better believe it, and Orozco has all the skills to make a huge impact.
Predicted Finish: 1st. I've been wrong before with this team, but there's just too much talent to deny.
Team Name: Ottawa Fury FC
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Manager: Paul Dalglish
Stadium: TD Place Stadium
History: A longtime candidate for expansion, Ottawa was welcomed into the league in 2011, with the Ottawa Fury name being decided in 2013. The Fury were a fromer PDL franchise, and brought a history of support with it. The club shares a new stadium (as well as ownership) with the Canadian Football League Ottawa RedBlacks. In 2015, the team surged to the Championship final, but lost to the New York Cosmos.
2015 In Review: Few would have predicted Ottawa Fury's run to the NASL Championship after the Fall Season. Despite making a splash by bringing in Canadian international Julian De Guzman, the results failed to come, and the Fury found themselves in 9th place. In the Fall, though, coach Marc Dos Santos' plan clicked. A back line marshaled by NASL Best XI goalkeeper Romuald Peiser and defender Rafael Alves recorded eight shutouts, and an offense led by the connection between midfielder Siniša Ubiparipović (eight assists total) and forward Tom Heinemann (12 goals total) resulted in one loss in 20 games, and a Fall Season title. Heinemann's two goals in the semifinal knocked out Minnesota United, but the Fury ultimately fell short of the Championship in New York, losing 3-2 to the New York Cosmos.
2016 Preview: After falling short in the Championship, the Ottawa Fury had the offseason from Hell. First, Manager of the Year Marc Dos Santos left to be an assistant and reserve team coach for Sporting Kansas City (MLS). Then, many of the key players in the run to the final chose to part ways: Tom Heinemann, who scored every playoff goal, went to Tampa Bay; Colin Falvey, Ryan Richter, and Mason Trafford, who all started on the back line in the Championship, moved on; Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan left for Jacksonvile, playmaker Siniša Ubiparipović went to Indy, and starting winger Andrew Wiedeman moved to Cinicinnati in USL. Reinforcements have come, mostly in the form of other lower league players, but almost all will have to prove themselves before being considered adequate replacements. If I have to pick one out, the signing to keep an eye on will be Marcel De Jong, the Canadian international brought in who should play as a left back. The Fury will also be bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Romuald Peiser, who won the league's Golden Glove in 2015 and was named /NASLSoccer's player of the year.
Key Players: Julian de Guzman, MF; Rafael Alves, DF; Romuald Peiser, GK
One to Watch: Mauro Eustáquio, MF. Last year, Eustáquio impressed in the midfield when filling in for injured players. With so many departures, the youngster now has a chance to play well and force his way onto the Canadian national team.
Predicted Finish: 10th. This team got completely picked apart in the offseason. They could turn out okay, but they'll have work to do to prove me wrong.
Team Name: Rayo OKC
Location: Yukon, Oklahoma
Manager: Alen Marcina
Stadium: Miller Stadium
History: A fierce battle between the NASL and USL PRO for a team in Oklahoma City ended with both leagues announcing expansions in the city. The USL put together Oklahoma Energy FC in 2013. Meanwhile, the owners of Oklahoma City FC, a Premier Development League (PDL) team, decided to run an NASL side, but an ownership group breakup in 2014 caused a delay to the project. Eventually, Spanish La Liga club Rayo Vallecano partnered with the organization to form what is now known as Rayo OKC. The team name was announced in November 2015, and began play at Miller Stadium in 2016.
**2016 Preview: As much of an enigma I've said Miami FC have been as an expansion team, it's safe to say Rayo OKC have been even more of a mystery. The organization was derided at first, dismissed due to the involvement from a struggling foreign team and its juxtaposition to the already-successful Energy. However, its initial roster has made fans sit up and take notice. Five World Cup veterans and nine national team players headline the squad, which includes illustrious Greek striker Georgios Samaras. Rayo has built its team using players with experience in European leagues (say, Yuma and Juanan) and players who have found success in MLS (Michel, Sebastian Velasquez) and the NASL (Billy Forbes, Erick Norales). Expansion teams typically take time to fare well, but if there's any that might have a chance at making a first impression by challenging for a title, this could be the one.
Key Players: Robbie Findley, FW; Derek Boateng, MF; Georgios Samaras, FW
One to Watch: Billy Forbes, FW. Over the past two years, Billy Forbes has become the breakout sensation of the league with the San Antonio Scorpions. With the Scorpions dissolving, Rayo OKC won their most prized asset in Forbes, who should certainly get a look-in from former San Antonio coach Alen Marcina.
Predicted Finish: 5th. So much talent, but need to build some chemistry and fan support.
Team Name: Tampa Bay Rowdies
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Manager: Stuart Campbell
Stadium: Al Lang Stadium
History: An original NASL team, the Rowdies won a championship in their first year (1975) and continued to impress until the league collapsed in 1985. The Rowdies kept playing in lower leagues until 1993. In 2008, the team was reborn again, with the vision of recreating its old glory days. However, because of legal problems, the team simply went by FC Tampa Bay until 2012, when the old moniker returned, along with a Soccer Bowl title won on penalties over Minnesota Stars FC. In 2014, the team was purchased by St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, who promised to take the Rowdies to the next level.
2015 In Review: Following a frustrating 2014 season, manager Ricky Hill got the boot, and the Rowdies began building a new roster with the prolific coach Thomas Rongen. Under Rongen, the ball started to roll, and the Rowdies finished 2nd in the Spring Season, just one point behind the New York Cosmos. In July, Tampa Bay made waves by signing former U.S. international Freddy Adu. However, the Fall Season got off to a rough start. After securing only seven points in eight games, Rowdies owner Bill Edwards fired Rongen and general manager Farrukh Quraishi. Under new manager Stuart Campbell, Tampa Bay fell further, eventually finishing 8th in the Fall and 5th overall, missing out on the playoffs by just two points.
2016 Preview: In the third year of the Bill Edwards era, Tampa Bay is under big pressure to finally make the playoffs. The Rowdies haven't been the loudest team in the offseason, and have perhaps been overshadowed by some of their neighbors in Florida, but the transition from 2015 to 2016 has been smooth. Key players were re-signed, including defensive rock Tamika Mkandawire, Freddy Adu, and 2014 MVP Georgi Hristov. They bet big on bringing in Tom Heinemann, the striker who lit Ottawa's season on fire in the second half of 2015. And they brought in a good collection of supplementary players, such as Neil Collins (200+ games in the English Football League), Danny Mwanga (100+ MLS games) and Eric Avila (170+ MLS games). The Rowdies toured England in the preseason, scoring some impressive results (a draw with Stoke City; a win over Notts County). After an offseason that was, for once, not quite tumultuous, it may be Tampa's time to shine in 2016.
Key Players: Georgi Hristov, FW; Tom Heinemann, FW; Freddy Adu, MF
One to Watch: Darwin Espinal, FW. Only 21, Espinal is already having an impact on Honduran youth national teams. He's got several good forwards to compete with on this roster, but he could well become one of the best.
Predicted Finish: 2nd. This could be the year it all comes together for the Rowdies.
Predicted Spring Standings:
Place Club
#1 New York Cosmos
#2 Tampa Bay Rowdies
#3 Minnesota United FC
#4 Carolina RailHawks
#5 Rayo OKC
#6 FC Edmonton
#7 Fort Lauderdale Strikers
#8 Indy Eleven
#9 Jacksonville Armada FC
#10 Ottawa Fury FC
#11 Miami FC
Opening Weekend Schedule:
Saturday, April 2
Time (ET) Home Away TV
3:00 CAR MNU
7:00 FTL MIA
7:30 TBR IND
8:00 OKC FCE
Sunday, April 3
Time (ET) Home Away TV
6:00 NYC OTT
To follow all the excitement and keep up with the latest news this season, make sure to visit and subscribe to /NASLSoccer - the home of the NASL on reddit.
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