As the NASL season is set to begin this Saturday it’s time to look inside the Pandora box to see how this eight team league will shake out over the next sixteen games. In this preview, I will give my table rankings and provide a short synopsis as to how each team will end up after the 1,440 minutes are played.
Carney’s NASL Predictions Table
- Miami FC
- New York Cosmos
- Indy Eleven
- FC Edmonton
- Puerto Rico FC
- San Francisco Deltas
- North Carolina FC
- Jacksonville Armada FC
The boys on South Beach have built a squad that looks to steam role their competition. This Miami FC will not only look to dominate the NASL but have aspirations of beating MLS teams when the U.S. Open Cup comes around. This star studded lineup includes: Kwadwo Poku, Michel, Michael Lahoud, Stefano Pinho, Jaime Chavez, Ariel Pedro Martinez, and the list goes on. Mess with this team and Alessandro Nesta can put in the enforcer Jonny Steele.
For the Indy Eleven faithful wondering about Dylan Mares; this will be the most challenging environment he has been a part of so far in his young career. Mares will defiantly progress but his minutes maybe hard to come by. Regardless, everyone in Indiana will be pulling for him.
Disregard formations with this Miami FC team. Rather, look at their style of play, areas of the field they like to suffocate their opponents, where they prefer to keep possession, and how Nesta can keep all of his stars happy.
New York Cosmos
Now that all of the offseason turmoil is over for the Cosmos, Giovanni Savarese has once again mounted a respectable roster that will look to challenge for their third NASL Soccer Bowl Championship in as many years. The majority of last year’s squad is back with the additions of Richard Menjivar, Walter Restrepo (most underrated player in the NASL/USL), speedster Kalif Alhassan, and Eugene Starikov.
It is no secret the Cosmos will be successful on the field as they have proven that year-in and year-out. But the concern is more off the field. The Cosmos already have a better television deal with MSG and a new place to call home in Brooklyn. However, two questions remain; can the Cosmos draw decent crowds and sell out their home matches and will the Cosmos receive any air time on an already over clogged landscape that is the New York media?
Siniša Ubiparipović is returning to Indy Eleven for his second season as the number 10.
The dust has settled on a fairy tale story for Indy Eleven and Tim Hankinson will lead the charge once again to write the 2017 story. For the most part, the Eleven’s roster from their Soccer Bowl run is back for round two. The major difference being the retirement of Greg Janacki, Dylan Mares signing for Miami FC, and Nicki Paterson going home to play in Scotland. Last season, the Eleven struggled in the mid to final third when Siniša Ubiparipović was out with injury. Hankinson addressed that issue of depth at the attacking midfield position with the acquisition of Ben Speas and Tanner Thompson. Then, the Eleven added Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Anthony Manning to fill the center back spot for Janacki and the injured Colin Falvey.
Hankinson has gone with the 4-4-2 with a diamond in the middle this preseason as it was successful last season. In Evansville this past weekend, Speas and Torrado played on the wider points with Ubiparipović at the top with Brad Ring holding the anchor. That being said, you should anticipate Don Smart getting his usual starting spot on the right side of the diamond with Speas on the left. It will be interesting to see how Speas adapts to an outside mid role given that he primarily played as the number 10 with an occasional spot start as a defensive mid for Minnesota United last year. Nevertheless, Indy Eleven will have their two formidable strikers up top in Justin Braun and Eamon Zayed.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” That has been the philosophy for Colin Miller and his team from Alberta as they continue to have a roster that has little turn over. They will look to set themselves up this spring to make a solid run in the fall and clinch a playoff spot in back-to-back years. Once again the best young defender from 2016 Papé Diakité will partner up with captain Albert Watson in the back. Across the middle Sainey Nyassi, Dustin Corea, Ben Fisk, Nicolas Di Biase, and Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood. Up-top look for American Jake Keegan to explode in front of the net once again.
Last offseason FC Edmonton lost Lance Laing and made the playoffs in 2016. This offseason the Eddies will be without forward Daryl Fordyce and 2016 NASL Golden Glove keeper Matt Van Oekel. But if there is one organization and coach that can produce a playoff contending team with the least amount of resources it is FC Edmonton and Miller.
Puerto Rico FC
This will Puerto Rico FC’s first full season in the NASL. Hector Ramos loaded PRFC on his back and led the team last fall with 8 goals and 4 assists. The only fire power added to PRFC was Walter Ramirez and Giuseppe Gentile as PRFC is looking to build continuity and familiarity with this team. Adrain Whitbread’s style is not one to grab headlines for playing attractive soccer, rather relying on a “punk soccer” style that is highly effective. This PRFC team will find a respectable place in the spring standings.
That being said, do not be surprised if PRFC gets out to a fast start in the NASL as they have already played some key matches in what was a short and disappointing quest to qualify for the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League. But once the travel of the NASL kicks in look for the playing field to level out.
San Francisco Deltas
I know. First year club’s/franchise’s do not fare well right out of the gates. But this is no ordinary team. On paper, 2017 is the Deltas first year of existence. But NASL fans should know better when Marc Dos Santos is leading the charge. He has lead the Montreal Impact (then USL), Ottawa Fury, and Swope Park Rangers to their respected league finals in his first or second season at the helm. Dos Santos has once again partnered up Tommy Heinemann and Romuald Peiser to bring that same mentality and success to the Bay Area. In addition, Dos Santos has sprinkled in a more Canadian-Brazilian style to that has international and MLS experience in this squad.
The last time Dos Santos was in the NASL he incorporated a formation that morphed into a 4-5-1 on defense and transitioned into a 4-3-3 moving forward. Look for a similar style this year when the Deltas take the field in their first season.
North Carolina FC (Formally the Carolina Railhawks)
This organization has seen considerable change under new owner Steve Malik. First, a name change, then a new color scheme, a MLS bid, and the addition of a women’s team. As for the team on the field, Colin Clarke will try a similar approach as FC Edmonton and have a 2017 lineup that looks identical to last year’s team. Hopefully, round two will be much better for a team that struggled to score goals (36) and give up the most (48) in the NASL last year. NCFC will miss Uncle Gunta’s (Simon Mensing) veteran leadership in the back and Mexican soccer star Omar Bravo.
Colin Clarke did bolster his roster with the addition of Jamaican international and NASL veteran Lance Laing to complement Nazmi Albadawi, Tiyi Shipalane, and Matt Fondy. NCFC and company will be hoping Laing can emulate his game from his FC Edmonton days and put behind the struggles he had last season with Minnesota United where he posted 1 goal in 1085 minutes. Where Laing goes Carolina goes, similar to the Eddies in 2015.
Jacksonville Armada FC
The good news for Jacksonville is the majority of last year’s team that finished in the cellar of the NASL will be back in 2017. The bad news for the Armada is the majority of last year’s team that finished in the cellar of the NASL will be back in 2017. The fleet of the Armada was severely damaged this offseason when Mark Frisch, who was considered a solid owner in the NASL, was forced to sell the club to the NASL for financial reasons. This means Armada head coach Mark Lowry will have to manage a roster with limited funds and shallow depth.
Lowry was able to sign Drew Beckie from North Carolina FC, Zach Steinberger to a permanent deal, and three players that did not make Minnesota United’s MLS squad from their NASL team in J.C. Banks, Jack Black, and Aaron Pitchkolan. Section 904 can only hope the ball bounces the Armada’s way as any international call up or injuries will result in the kraken taking the Armada navy with no mercy.
*All photos by Trey Higdon unless noted otherwise.
*John Frusciante helped write the portion on the New York Cosmos.