The long wait is finally over. The 2014 NASL season is about to get underway, and the first week of games provides fans with some exciting matchups as we start the new campaign. The Cosmos and Silverbacks will take each other on in a rematch of the 2013 Soccer Bowl, Minnesota and San Antonio continue their rivalry in Texas and Indy Eleven will play their first ever game in front of their home fans.
Along with previews of individual games, we will predict our overall season standings (Spring and Fall combined). I will no doubt get this horribly wrong, but its still a fun thing to do, and this is America so I can do it.
All that aside, the NASL is back for another season and we couldn’t be more excited.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Ottawa Fury FC
The Strikers will make their home debut on Saturday against expansion side Ottawa Fury FC. Fort Lauderdale are hoping for a bounce back campaign after a disappointing 2013 season. With fresh faces brought during the offseason the Strikers are hoping to get off to a fast start this season, starting with a home win on opening night.
The match also marks a historic day for Ottawa as they play their first match in the NASL. The expansion side has built a strong team in the offseason, and the club has made moves on and off the field to make sure that the Fury will be competitive in their opening campaign. With an exciting season ahead for Ottawa no matter the result of the standings, the Fury will look to surprise folks with a winning start.
Fort Lauderdale is going try their best to attack from the opening whistle at home while also getting their fans behind them. If Ottawa can withstand the first wave of pressure successfully, than Marc Dos Santos’ men can start to implement their style into the match. An exciting and partially historic day in South Florida should be a lot of fun to watch.
Prediction: FTL 1-1 OTA
Indy Eleven vs. Carolina RailHawks
In the tabbed ESPN3 “Match of the Week” Indy Eleven will host the RailHawks at a sold out Carroll Stadium in the first match of their history. Indy, like Ottawa, are hoping to surprise the league in the first coupe of weeks; and backed by their sold out crowd, they will want to take three points in their opener. The momentum should be on their side to start.
The RailHawks, meanwhile, will be looking to prove that true consistency does exist in the NASL. Carolina has been one of the most consistent teams in the league since 2012 and obviously they would like that to continue. They suffered some big losses during the offseason and didn’t make too many impact signings, however a part of their core is intact entering the season.
Indy Eleven has had a lot of fire at their backs since it was announced that they would be an NASL expansion team. The club has assembled a solid squad and intends to compete for a postseason spot. Although Carolina are the experienced a savvy side in this match, Indy might have enough to take home three points because of the adrenaline and momentum of a home opener.
Prediction: IND 2-1 CAR
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. FC Edmonton
The Rowdies had a high-scoring 2013 season both by them and their opponents. They scored the most in the NASL and allowed the second-most. The Rowdies employ the league MVP in Georgi Hristov and added the Golden Boot winner, Brian Shriver in the offseason. They will be on the hunt for goals starting at the kick-off at Al Lang.
On the other hand, they will face their exact opposite on Saturday. Edmonton is notorious for allowing near the fewest goals every year while also scoring the fewest. Edmonton seemed to make moves in the offseason that would improve their attacking flair, but it remains to be seen if that actually pans out.
I think firepower wins here. Edmonton will be organized and disciplined, but Tampa’s attack (on paper at least) looks good enough to break down most defenses in the league. Look for Shriver to get on the score sheet as well because I said so.
Prediction: TBR 2-0 FCE
San Antonio Scorpions vs. Minnesota United FC
In what is probably the tastiest matchup of the Saturday games, the Scorpions host rivals Minnesota United at Toyota Field. The Scorpions have once again totally revamped their roster, except this time it seems as if they signed quality players and gave them a quality preseason to gel. Alen Marcina has the full time job and will want to impress right away.
Minnesota made some good signings in the offseason and coupled with their already talented squad made it seem like United was destined for big things. The loss of star striker Pablo Campos hurts, but it shouldn’t be the end of the world for Minnesota. They play well against San Antonio and I would expect the same on opening night.
Both Marcina and Manny Lagos are attack-minded managers, so it would not be unreasonable to expect a game filled with pretty soccer and lots of chances. These two teams are two of the most talented in the league, and with the added rivalry, always make for a fun game to watch. We expect no different in the opener.
Prediction: SAS 2-2 MNU
New York Cosmos vs. Atlanta Silverbacks
Sunday’s lone game is a rematch of the 2013 Soccer Bowl between the Cosmos and Silverbacks. The Cosmos have retained almost all of their championship squad while adding some big pieces to it in the offseason. Currently, the Cosmos are on top of the league and it will need to take an impressive season from another NASL team to knock them down.
The Silverbacks lost some major pieces in the offseason and didn’t do a very good job of replacing them afterward. They lost their two best midfielders, a couple of forwards and their Best XI goalkeeper. They don’t really even have a Head Coach, but Eric Wynalda has surprised us before.
The Cosmos are a very strong side, and opening up at home should only help. The Silverbacks don’t look very threatening at the moment, but they surprised us last year when most thought the same thing. Either way, the Cosmos should pick up where they left off.
Prediction: NYC 3-0 ATL
Its exciting to see the league return for another year and it looks as if the squads are going to be more talented and competitive collectively then ever before. 2013 was a lot of fun, and I hope that 2014 tops last season.
For fun, I decided to predict (guess) the overall standings come the end of the season. Check them out below. If I am right at the end of the year then I get high fives from every reader.
1. Cosmos – They will be the top dogs again
2. Scorpions – Marcina completely revamps the Scorpions
3. Rowdies – Attack is too much to handle for the league despite defensive worries
4. Minnesota United – No Pablo Campos, but still a very talented side.
5. Ottawa Fury – Expansion side surprises in their first season
6. RailHawks – Carolina takes a step back; didn’t properly replace Shriver, Da Luz
7. Indy Eleven – A decent first season leads to seventh
8. FC Edmonton – Doesn’t score enough goals to compete for postseason
9. Fort Lauderdale – Too inconsistent to be successful in 2014
10. Silverbacks – Missing too many important players from 2013
(image courtesy of nasl.com)