Since our last update on league transfers, there have been plenty more moves made by clubs around the league as they strengthen their ranks for the 2016 season. Fewer releases in this update, but a flurry of signings all around the league except for one or two teams, most notably, the defending champions.
Carolina made just its second signing of the offseason, bringing down defender Drew Beckie from Ottawa. The 2015 NASL Humanitarian of the Year has plenty of experience, playing about 35 games over the last two years.
Their next move, the re-signing of Akira Fitzgerald, ensured a strong presence in the net for 2016. Fitzgerald, who started 21 games upon returning from a short stint with NYCFC, had the dubious honor of being the league leader in saves and goals allowed, though that could be argued to be more the fault of the back line.
Their last move to finish the year was a trade with the Strikers that sent Neil Hlavaty south, but got back “Big” James Marcelin in return. The member of the Haitian national team is reunited with head coach Colin Clarke, who were first brought together on the Puerto Rico Islanders. Playing 30 games last season, the midfielder scored two goals, logged three assists, and earned a spot in the NASL Best XI.
But, after all this, the question remains on what exactly a Railhawk is.
The Strikers dropped eight players, including all members of their goalkeeper corps. Lionel Brown, Joe Nasco, and David Meves will no longer be in the net for the Strikers and join Shawn Chin, Evans Frimpong, Daniel Navarro, Bruno Nunes, and Karsten Smith on the way out.
Frankie Sanfilippo and Walter Ramirez’s contracts expired and they left to explore new options in the league. Marlon Freitas’ loan with the club also came to an end and he returned to Fluminense in Brazil. The last player to leave was James Marcelin just before the new year as part of the trade with Carolina.
But the Strikers have also brought back returning faces and brought in some new ones.
Announcements of returns kicked off on Christmas Eve including PC, a contender for the Golden Ball and Young Player of the year, Gabriel, the Brazilian midfielder who will transition to the backline, and Jose Angulo, a capable forward who may see more chances with the departure of Stefano. Also returning are Manny Gonzalez and Christian Blandon, a pair of midfielders.
They have also signed numerous new players from abroad and around the NASL.
Aurelio Saco Vertiz, a left back in the Peruvian first division is capped by their national team.
Luis Zapata is a 35-year-old defender with extensive history in Colombia, although difficult to find any record of his experience from 2013 forward.
Bruno Cardoso is a goalkeeper with extensive history in Brazil, particularly with Palmeiras and has experience in Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
Diego Restrepo, a Venezuelan keeper, joins from Metropolitanos FC of Venezuela, but spent two seasons before that with the Rowdies.
Matias Reynares, an Argentinian keeper, is signing his first pro contract after spending the last three years with Defensor Sporting of Uruguay.
Victor Pineda was a midfielder with Indy Eleven 2014 and 2015 and is a member of the US U-23s.
Geison Moura, a forward with Minnesota United since 2011, has not gotten consistent appearances, but went on loan to Singapore in 2014 and scored 21 goals in 27 games.
Gale Agbossoumonde, a 6’2 center back with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2015, departed the club after Thomas Rongen’s dismissal saw him drop down the depth chart.
Maicon Santos, a 31-year-old striker, led the Rowdies in goals last season with seven.
Nana Attakora, a center back who started 21 matches for the defunct Scorpions last season, is also a member of the Canadian national team.
Giuseppe Gentile, a forward with the Scorpions in 2014 was loaned back to them last fall.
Neil Hlavaty, obtained in the aforementioned trade with Carolina, is a midfielder who played 29 games for the Railhawks in 2015, logging four goals and two assists. He has extensive NASL experience with three seasons in Minnesota and two in Edmonton.
Goalkeeper Keith Cardona and defender Daniel Keller re-signed with the club. Cardona started ten matches in 2015, posting a 1.60 GAA and saw more time in the fall. The departure of Kristian Nicht should afford him some new opportunities. Keller mostly saw time as a holding mid, playing 16 games and getting two assists in the process.
Their latest two signings were Eamon Zayed and Neil Shaffer. Zayed, capped by the Libyan national team, is a Leicester City academy product with experience in the Irish and Iranian leagues. He joins Indy after 21 games with Sabah FC of the Malaysian league where he scored eleven times. Shaffer, a midfielder, joins from the Harrisburg City Islanders where he captained the side in 2015 and helped them to the USL Final the year before.
They also signed several new players, the bulk of them from USL.
Alex Dixon joins from the 2015 USL Champion Rochester Rhinos. The forward scored three goals in 15 games and played in all three playoff matches. He spent a month on loan with the Rowdies in 2013 and scored once in three games.
Beto Navarro, a defender with the Orange County Blues of USL, started 22 games and helped them win the Western Conference this year.
Tyler Ruthven, a 6’2 center back, spent the last two years with Arizona United SC where he played 46 games for them. He’s also spent time overseas in Finland and Sweden, and, prior to that, domestically with Red Bulls and the Silverbacks.
Bryan Burke, a right back, spent last year with Louisville City FC of USL where he led the league with 10 assists. Prior to that, he spent two seasons with Orlando City SC of USL where they won a league title and the Commissioner’s Cup.
Danny Barrow stands out from the USL crowd as an overseas candidate. The Welsh winger and West Brom academy product has played with English National League South clubs.
There have been a pair of changes in Miami since our last update. Dario Cvitanich, a 31-year-old forward, joined the club after a long history with the Argentine first division and a resume that boasts clubs like Ajax, Pachuca, and Boca Jrs. They also signed Spanish keeper David Sierra who spent 2015 with the Armada. The product of the Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid academies has experience in Spain, Honduras, and Puerto Rico and played eight games for the Armada with inconsistent results.
More departures followed for United who have not made many signings thus far. Midfielders Kalif Alhassan and Alejandro Vela had their options declined, Geison Moura’s contract expired and he headed to the Strikers, and Yago Silva’s loan from Vasco da Gama ended.
Following the exodus of talent from the 2015 NASL runner-up, Julian de Guzman and Mauro Eustaquio, both midfielders who represent Canada at the senior and youth levels respectively, have re-signed with the club.
New head coach Paul Dalglish dipped into his former team, the Austin Aztex, for his first signings of the offseason.
Dennis Chin, a Jamaican forward, played 20 games and scored three times. This was noticeably lower than the 2012 USL season where led the league with 29 goals on OCSC.
Lance Rozeboom, a center back and holding mid, captained the Aztex last year and started all 28 games. He won the Players’ MVP Award last year.
Fernando Timbo, a 6’1 Brazilian center back played 23 games with the Austin side and spent the eight years prior to that with Coritiba FC.
With the end of the San Antonio Scorpions, Nana Attakora and Giuseppe Gentile have found new life with the Strikers while Billy Forbes indicated his departure in an Instagram post that has since been removed.
Four more departures followed the ones that came in November as midfielder Richard Menjivar and forward Brian Shriver’s contracts expired. Forwards Robert Hernandez and Maicon Santos (now with the Strikers) had their options declined. Assistant Coach Eric Arbuzow also left the club.
But new signings and returning faces followed these departures.
Returning to the club are Ben Sweat (LB) with a two year contract and Stefan Antonijevic (CB) with a club option for 2017. Zac Portillos, who previously had his option exercised, was signed to a new deal with a club option for 2017.
Kalif Alhassan joined after being released by Minnesota where he scored four goals and added six assists. The winger is a potent addition to an office that now includes Tom Heinemann and Freddy Adu.
Frankie Sanfilippo returns to the Rowdies after a year away at the Strikers. He started all 31 games for the Strikers last year as a center back, although he has historically been used as a right back with the Rowdies, who he has logged 100 games with. His one-year contract includes a club option for 2017.
Walter Ramirez signed with the Rowdies after spending the last two years with the Strikers. The midfielders played 27 games in 2015 and scored five goals. His NASL experience includes time with the Eleven and the Scorpions.
Danny Mwanga joins the Rowdies after a year with OCSC. His one-year contract also includes a club option for 2017. This is Mwanga’s second stint in the NASL, after a loan from the Rapids sent him to the Cosmos in 2014. He didn’t make as much of an impact that year and it’ll remain to be seen what he accomplishes with talented competition in the offense.
Admittedly, this base we’ve started off with this offseason is better than the ones before the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but a lot of questions exist about how the Cosmos will compete with stronger clubs being built around the league this offseason.
That question is undoubtedly amplified by the reports from Soccer by Ives and Empire of Soccer that Georgios Samaras is no longer being pursued by the green and white and, of course, the departures of Marcos Senna and Raul. Hang in there, Cosmos Country.
While many teams around the leagues have made sweeping changes to their line-ups, I’d argue that many have not been wildly impressive. At this point, the standouts to me are Minnesota and Tampa Bay in terms of quality signings. After that, it mostly becomes a question of quantity over quality.
But, it remains to be seen what direction the Cosmos go next year. Is the bank still open to draw in big names or will this be more of a “Moneyball” kind of club?
And, full disclosure, I’d rather have the announcement of a stadium and a lower budget team this year in place of big spending on our roster this year if I had to choose.
It is amazing how much movement there was in the last month and a half of the year. It was very tough to keep up with!
It is clear that teams in the NASL are doing their best to get better and, as we start 2016, Minnesota is the team which seems most determined to win the Soccer Bowl.
Tampa Bay has made some very strong signings with the additions of Heinemann and Alhassan and they also look like they are going to make a hard push.
The Cosmos did not add one player after the 2015 season but lost many. It will be an interesting few months in Long Island as the Cosmos get ready for their West Coast preseason tour.
However, all this player movement is exciting but I am already getting the urge to watch these teams in action.