While fans wait to see the 2016 NASL schedule, they are hoping to get answers for the club in Atlanta. They will also learn the first opponents for the three newcomers entering the league in 2016: Miami FC, Rayo OKC, and Puerto Rico FC.
With the new year upon us, we look at the three clubs who will make their debut in 2016.
Outside of being one of the more anticipated road trips for NASL fans, Puerto Rico FC is a story all fans are going to watch closely in 2016. Puerto Rico is no stranger to professional soccer in North America and, in fact, the now defunct Puerto Rico Islanders achieved great success before folding in 2014 because of inadequate funding.
In 2009 the Islanders went all the way to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League losing to Cruz Azul. The Islanders ended their run in the North American Soccer League in 2011, where they fell to the Minnesota Stars in the post season.
So how does the new ownership group, spearheaded by New York Knicks basketball star Carmelo Anthony, rejuvenate this Puerto Rico market? That is the question many fans are asking. At the time of writing, Puerto Rico has yet to announce a player but has appointed Adrian Whitbread as head coach. Whitbread was a previous coach for the Puerto Rico Islanders, taking over for Colin Clarke as he left to become (and still is) head coach of the Carolina Railhawks.
The club also announced it would play its matches at Bayamon’s Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium. The capacity is 12,500 and is about 10 miles from Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan.
However, in a tough economic time for the Commonwealth, questions arise as to whether the fans will flock to the stadium as they did in the past. The average attendance for the Islanders from 2004-2012 was just 3,651 with the highest season being 5,378 in 2006, so getting fans out will be a tall order. We will see if they are successful when they kick off in the fall season.
There were not many fans happy with the announcement of Rayo OKC as many had flashbacks to Chivas USA. However, on the up side, this club does have some local ownership in Sean Jones so it gives some hope that this team will embrace the local community.
The biggest question is: Why? Why would a club from Spain, who is currently sitting in the relegation zone and itself only draws a little over 10K per game want to invest in Oklahoma City? In fact, supporters of Rayo Vallecano were recently seen sporting the jersey of USL Oklahoma City team Energy FC.
Many fans will question if Oklahoma City is big enough for two soccer teams. The energy drew an average of 4,635 in 2015, however, the metropolitan area has well over a million people so there is room for success at both fronts.
Hiring Alen Marcina to be the head coach was a very solid start for OKC as he brings with him experience and success at the NASL level. Winning the 2014 Soccer bowl with San Antonio, Marcina knows what it takes to win in this league. The other good thing for OKC is that with the Scorpions all but dead, many of those players could make the move with Marcina meaning his system would not be that foreign to the new team. It will be interesting to watch how Marcina builds the roster.
The team is slated to start in spring and will play its home games at Miller Stadium, a high school football venue that can seat 6,000 but is expandable to 11,000. While the words ‘high school football stadium’ might make you question how serious they are, Google the images of this place and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.
Rayo OKC will be a story of interest for sure for fans to see if this second attempt at an NASL side in OKC is more successful than the first.
The most exciting of the three new teams has to be the new Miami FC. Spearheaded by Riccardo Silva and Paolo Maldini, this team is bringing a star-studded cast to South Florida. The have appointed another Italian legend, Alessandro Nesta, as head coach and have started filling out their roster with some decent talent.
They have brought in two solid forwards in Jaime Chavez, who has experience with the Atlanta Silverbacks, and Argentine Dario Cvitanich, who has spent times in Holland, Argentina, France and Mexico. His most recent spell has been with Pachuca where he had 2 goals in 14 appearances.
In the middle of the park they have brought in a mix of grit and speed with Honduran national Wilson Palacios and Jamaican international Dane Richards. Add Blake Smith to that mix and the roster is starting to firm up.
In an interesting move, Miami FC also brought in Argentine Goalkeeper Mario Daniel Vega. The highlight of Vega’s career is a five-year stint with River Plate of Argentina, however he never really played a key role with River Plate.
On the field this ownership group seems to be doing it all correctly, but it will be a huge challenge to really make a name for themselves in the Miami market. When you think of Miami sports, you have to think of the struggles teams face getting crowds out to the stadiums. Outside of the Lebron-led Miami heat, Miami sports fans have always been criticized for not being passionate about their teams at all times. Miami FC is hoping that the star-studded cast will help win over the fans of South Beach.
Miami FC has all the makings of a team that is going to try their best to become the new glamour boys of NASL, but it will not be an easy task. That being said, they now are by far the best suited of the expansion teams to make some serious impact in year one.
It should be fun to watch!
Have to agree with Nick. Miami is pushing real hard to make a splash and are bringing in some decent talent from abroad coupled with players experienced with the NASL. Is there a challenge? Of course. Even without the MLS side there, Miami hasn’t always been a great sports city. Should the Beckham group ever set up shop it will be harder but, for now, Miami has a chance to find its niche. For better or worse, the Strikers have yet to create a strong following so their proximity to Miami FC shouldn’t affect them too much, in fact, I wonder how badly it could hurt the Strikers in the short term.
Rayo similarly has its own challenges to face. It’s chosen a battleground city with a club from another league that many see as rivals. Also, as part of the Rayo Vallecano umbrella, it ends the rally cry that many league supporters used when discussing NYCFC and MLS. But, for now, it means expansion, particularly in a region close to where the Scorpions just died. Also, with the Atlanta question still hanging, expansion just means that much more.
Puerto Rico is where I get worried. Lots of factors here, few that I feel are positive. The island’s economic situation continues to look worse, and when disposable income begins to be affected, you have to wonder how that impacts a community that has not habitually thrown its weight behind soccer. Logistically, they are one of the hardest trips to make for clubs like Edmonton or future West Coast expansions. And, at this point in time, with Carmelo Anthony as the sole owner, I have to question whether the pockets are deep enough for the costs of supporting a team. It’s a compelling away trip and I’d hope the club would be able to represent the league in CONCACAF Champions’ League, but I’m unclear what the rulings are on that, at the moment. Lots of questions, not much in the way of answers until fall!
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