Opening Week: The Match-Ups

opening week 2016

NASL SPRING SEASON OPENING WEEK

The time has finally come for matches. No more talk and premature power rankings, it is time for the teams to battle it out on the field starting this Saturday as the NASL Spring Season opens up with a game starting at 3 PM. Here is a look at the non-Cosmos NASL games from Week 1.

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Carolina Railhawks vs Minnesota United – Wake Med Soccer Park
This is a very strong way to start off the season as two of the more solid sides will do battle out of the gate. Minnesota is going to be interesting to watch as last year they had the Golden Boot runner up in Christian Ramirez and they solidified that attack by adding the actual Golden Boot winner, Stefano Pinho. Goals will not be tough to come by with this team as they also added speedster Lance Laing to an already talented midfield as well. Justin Davis and Kevin Vengas are very strong fullbacks that will also add to the attack however defending will be a question for this team. They will rely on just outscoring opponents early and often.

However, Carolina had a solid off season as they retained Naz Albadawi and Austin Da Luz for the wings. They also added a solid holding midfielder in James Marcelin which should help the Railhawks defensivly. That will be huge as the Carolina gave up 49 goals last season which was tied for the league-worst. They also added solid NASL depth in Drew Beckie (2015 Ottawa Fury player), Simon Mensing (2015 Atlanta Silverbacks player) and Kareem Moses (2015 FC Edmonton player).

Should be a fun game to start the season.

Ft, Lauderdale Strikers vs Miami FC – Lockhart Stadium
After that game, you take a breather and get ready for the first South Florida Derby in league history as the new Miami FC, headed by Alessandro Nesta, head over to visit the revamped Ft Lauderdale Strikers.

There is no way to really know what to expect from either of these teams as Miami is an expansion side and will be playing its first league game as a team and the Strikers are a completely revamped team from last season.

in Miami you have some names common to NASL up front in Pablo Campos and Jaime Chavez and they made an international splash in signing Wilson Palacios from Stoke City to man the midfield. The back line, like the front, will see some NASL experience with names like Masson Trafford and Brad Rusin, however, the roster is then filled with a lot of players who we need to see play before understanding their impact. A number of Brazilian and a couple of Cuban players make the expansion team very intriguing.

The Strikers also have an incredible Brazilian presence as they have a large amount of players and coaches coming from the soccer-mad nation. The team though improved a number of ways this off-season and could be very dangerous. They added a very exciting player in Adrianinho and he will complement PC who was one of the best players in NASL last year. (Cosmos fans will remember his goal against us in the semi-final in Brooklyn). The Strikers are really starting to turn things around both on and off the field as their ownership enters year two.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs Indy Eleven – Al Lang Stadium
After just missing out on the playoffs last year, the Rowdies added some names to make sure they are playing in November this year. They added ex-number 1 MLS Superdraft pick Danny Mwanga to the roster as well as Ottawa Fury star forward Tom Heinemann. This should improve the goal-scoring for the Rowdies as last year they finished last in that department. In the midfield, they added Kalif Alhassan from Minnesota and Junior Burgos from Atlanta. They might not be done yet as there are rumors swirling they are trying to obtain English midfielder Joe Cole. This team is ready to get to the next level in 2016 and if they can find way to get better results on the road, they will get there.

As for Indy, the question remains if they will get things right on the field. While they draw great crowds and the community is completely behind the team, on the field has been a different story as they have struggled to get out of the bottom levels of the table. Things seem to not be getting much better as coach Hankinson had a bit of an outburst recently regarding the players’ ambitions. Indy is a fun story but on the field they need to match what they have been able to do off the field.

Rayo OKC vs FC Edmonton – Miller Stadium
The second expansion team opens its season this Saturday but they do so at their home stadium. Rayo OKC will take the field for the first time in a league game against FC Edmonton.

A lot of questions were raised when Rayo OKC was announced. Many asked how a team who was fighting relegation in their home league would be able to run a club in North America. In fact, recently on our podcast, we had General Manager Eric Newendorp on and he stated he really does not know what will happen if Rayo Vallacano get relegated. That being said, the front office have made some splashes and put together a very exciting attack featuring Ghana national team star Derek Boateng, San Antonio Scorpions’ most exciting player in Billy Forbes, ex-US national team forward Robbie Findley and finally, ex-Celtic and Greek national team star Georgios Samaras. There is no doubt that this team is putting money behind the operation. The back line will consist of NASL experience, as well. You just do not know what you are going to get from an expansion side but as the off season came along, they proved to be the stronger of the two expansion sides on paper.

The Eddies will be back trying to get into the post season as they were in the mix until the final weeks in 2015. Coach Colin Miller is very excited about this team, calling it the most exciting team they have assembled.

The team added some quality players in Nik Ledgerwood and Adam Eckersley. They also signed Jake Keegan from Galway United, who actually is from New York and went to school in Binghamton.

Edmonton also prides itself on the youth academy and they should be seeing some of the benefits of that this season as well. Consistency will be key as the Eddies continue to fight the travel distances and time zone battle as the westernmost team in NASL.

 

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What’s not to like? Nearly every team in the league has made strides to build stronger line-ups than last year. Indy, hampered by poor performances and injuries may be the sole exception, as evidenced by their roster moves last evening.

Edmonton will look to move on from the loss of Lance Laing after a promising preseason start in Scotland. Can they do it? Too early to tell, but it’ll be fun to watch.

Rayo has been the surprise of expansion clubs. With all eyes initially on Miami, Rayo came flying in with some powerful signings. I have to wonder how this club holds up if Vallecano can’t stay in La Liga. Apparently, their FO does, as well. Listen to our interview with their GM. It was pretty surprising.

Ah, the Rowdies. From a showing that just missed out on the spring title to a downward spiral out of the postseason, they have spent this offseason buiking up their roster and then testing it in England and at the Suncoast Invitational. They will look to avoid the errors of 2015, a “one-year plan” gone awry.

Indy Eleven – ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Strikers may have made it to the semis last year, but what a joke they were off the field. Nobody’s laughing in 2016. A preseason trip to China and some serious preseason tests, coupled with an effective re-tooling of the roster and a true commitment to the brand by the ownership. They’re going down the right road. Now, they need to capitalize in Game 1.

Miami FC – I’m somewhat confused. Some really good signings, and then other players who’ve never played pro, others who were in lower leagues and brought up for this, Cuban MNT players. The odds are against them in Game 1.

Carolina has worked on repairing their Swiss cheese defense and now maybe, just maybe, Akira Fitzgerald can look like the quality keeper he is. Too bad their first test is against United.

Minnesota. This is their last chance for another Bowl this season. Got to start it off strong and they have plenty of offensive firepower. Certainly enough to put away Carolina. But, will they do it? Or will they blow the 1-0 lead to draw?

Lots to look forward to this weekend.

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