The New York Cosmos were crowned 2015 NASL Soccer Bowl Champions on Sunday which means the offseason has officially begun. I rank all of the NASL teams that look to compete in 2016. I look at how each team will stack up for next season, strengths they possess, areas of concern, and predict how each team will do in the NASL combined table.
Ottawa Fury FC: (Credit: Help from Theo Gauthier)
After a slow start to the season the Fury went on a run only written in fairy tales. A run that included two separate 12 game unbeaten streaks and a 6 game shutout streak that saw Ottawa clinch the NASL Fall Title. Led by goalkeeper, Romuald Peiser, the Fury had the best defense in the league, only allowing 23 goals in 30 games. Once the offense got going, Ottawa could not be stopped as Tom Heinemann had a team high 12 goals. All of this could not have been attained if it was not for the vision and leadership of Head Coach, Marc Dos Santos. This offseason, the Fury will have to fill the void left by Marc Dos Santos after it was announced earlier in the fall that Dos Santos would be leaving at the conclusion of the season. If Ottawa can find a coach that can build on the success and vision that was established by Dos Santos and keep the core of this roster together, this team will be competing for Canadian and NASL trophies for years to come.
Strengths: Deep roster with forward Tom Heinemann, midfielder Julian De Guzman, and
goalkeeper Romuald Peiser leading the way.
Areas of concern: Finding a coach that can build on Mar Dos Santos’s philosophy. Resigning key players.
Minnesota United FC:
One of the strongest teams in the league in terms of ownership, roster, and fan base Minnesota United had another successful season. A big concern for Minnesota was losing Miguel Ibarra to Club León. But the Loons led the league in goals with 13 goals coming from Christian Ramirez. As the year progressed, goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock only got stronger and finished with a 1.09 goals against average. Next year, Minnesota United will be competing for a playoff spot and if they were as aggressive as they were this past offseason we should expect another deep and deadly roster. The only thing that will be stopping this team is the process and planning for their MLS debut in 2018.
Strengths: Attacking options in Pablo Campos, Christian Ramirez, Ibson, and Kalif Alhassan. Shot stopper Sammy Ndjock. Strong ownership and fan support.
Areas of concern: Focused on their MLS debut in 2018.
New York Cosmos:
After being crowned Soccer Bowl Champions two out of the last three years the New York Cosmos will look to repeat for the first time since they played in the original NASL. Although the Cosmos will be toward the top of the table next season they will have to defend their title without mega stars, Raúl and Marcos Senna, after they announced their retirement toward the end of the season. The Cosmos have established that they can attract big name players on a global basis and will look to do the same this offseason. There has been rumors that Greek and Celtic legend Georgios Samaras will sign with the club after training with the team for some time. In the meantime the Cosmos will look to grow their attendance and build a state-of-the-art stadium they can call home.
Strengths: A club that can attract big names.
Areas of concern: Replacing legends Raúl and Marcos Senna. New stadium. Attendance.
One of the most explosive attacking teams in the league, FC Edmonton fell just short of a playoff spot. Located in Alberta, Canada the Eddies have to travel thousands of miles just to play one game. Earlier this year, the Fath Brothers announced they spend roughly $700,000 in travel costs. Which means the budget for their roster is extremely small. But the Fath Brothers have committed to bringing a successful soccer club to Alberta. One of their start attractions is Jamaican international Lance Laing. The past two years he has led the Eddies with 15 goals and 13 assists. If Laing was not selected for Jamaica’s Copa America and Gold Cup competitions, he not only would have scored more goals and assists but the Eddies could have qualified for the NASL Playoffs. In addition to Laing, the Eddies will be bringing back another goal scoring threat in Tomi Ameobi and one of the league’s best netminders in Matt VanOekel. The Eddies biggest need they have to address this offseason is strengthening their back line.
Strengths: Lance Laing.
Areas of concern: Budget spent on travel. Location of the team. Attendance at Clarke Stadium. Defense.
Miami FC: Joining the NASL at the start of the 2016 spring season.
After it was announced that David Beckham and company was awarded an MLS team in Miami the NASL made a move of their own to secure a spot in South Beach. Co-owners Riccardo Silva and former soccer star Paolo Maldini have already landed a home stadium at Florida International University and hired one of Maldini’s former teammates, Alessandro Nesta, as Head Coach of Miami FC. They have done all of this while the MLS Miami team has struggled to find land for a new stadium. With deep pockets and connections Silva, Maldini, and Nesta have in the soccer world this team should rival that of the New York Cosmos in terms of star power. The only concern is fan support and attendance. In a city known as a vacation destination, current and previous professional sports franchises understand the difficulty in attracting respectable crowds on a consistence bases. The Miami Fusion is one of only two teams in the history of the MLS to fold because of low attendance. Annually, the Miami Marlins rank near the bottom in attendance for Major League Baseball (MLB) even during their 1997 and 2003 World Series Championship seasons. The Current Fort Lauderdale Strikers, formerly Miami FC, had to relocate because of fan interest as well.
Strengths: Ownership’s deep pockets. Attracting big name stars.
Areas of concern: Fan support and attendance.
Tampa Bay Rowdies:
After a strong start to the season that saw the Rowdies finishing second in the spring standings the team lost momentum as the fall season opened. Then, owner Bill Edwards came out and stated that he was operating on a “one year plan” in helping the Rowdies win a championship and proceeded to fired General Manager Farrukh Quraishi and Head Coach Thomas Rongen after a seven game run that saw the Rowdies go 2-1-4. Under interim Head Coach Stuart Campbell, the Rowdies fell 2 points shy of a playoff spot after dropping their final match of the season to the Cosmos. The Rowdies have already made four roster moves this offseason by resigning defenders Zac Portillos, Darnell King, midfielder Keith Savage, and forward Darwin Espinal. Bill Edwards showed he wants to spend in order to win the championship as the Rowdies payroll rivaled that of the Cosmos in 2015 with the acquisitions of Freddy Adu and Maicon Santos. Fans of the team will have to see if Edwards’s drama unfolds again like the 2015 season. Only this time the owner’s drama will be taking place in court.
Strengths: Deep roster with attacking options. Matt Pickens in goal.
Areas of concern: Owner’s expectations and off field issues. General manager. Coach.
Jacksonville Armada FC:
The new kids on the block will be entering the winter months with one season under their belts. After releasing their General Manager Dario Sala and Head Coach Guillermo Hoyos in September the Armada will have to decide if they want to keep interim coach Eric Dade. Regardless, they look to rebuild their roster that will be more competitive in the NASL after releasing eight players that include Marcos Flores and goalie David Sierra. Next year’s squad could have less of an international flair and full of experienced players who have played in North America. The Armada could create chances going forward, finishing second in shots with 220. But Jacksonville’s shortfalls was giving up goals and seeing red cards. The Armada finished tied for second in goals against with 49 and second in red cards with 9.
Strengths: Ability to create chances.
Areas of concern: General Manager. Coach. Discipline. Sophomore slump.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers:
The Strikers are an interesting team to say the least. They have the most talented roster in the NASL with players such as; James Marcelin, PC, and Stefano Pinho. They have a stadium that needs a face lift, struggling to attack fans, and are now searching for a new head coach. After taking over at the end of the spring season, Günter Kronsteiner led the Strikers to back-to-back postseason experiences. That’s correct. After leading the Strikers to the 2014 Soccer Bowl Final he was let go by the Brazilian ownership group that took over the team at the end of that season. Then, the Brazilian owners rehired Gunter in 2015 only to let him go once more. The Strikers organization is like a roller coaster that has many loops, twists, and turns. Where that ride ends no one knows.
Strengths: Roster. Attacking options that can score goals.
Areas of concern: Ownership. Stadium. Attracting fans to Lockhart Stadium. Coach.
The Eleven had much more success overall in their second year of existence and will look to do the same in their third. Once again the club will look to secure a loan from the Indiana General Assembly and land in downtown Indianapolis as they look to build a new stadium. While the club pushes for a new venue, they will have to decide if they want to lift the interim tag from Tim Regan and sign him to the position permanently or go in a different direction. Before Indy Eleven finds a new coach, owner Ersal Ozdemir may be looking for a new general manager and president after news was leaked that current General Manager, Peter Wilt, has taken on an unpaid consulting role with the newly formed, Chicago Sting, who look to start playing in the NASL in 2017. In addition, the Eleven will look to strengthen their back line after they gave up the third most goals in the league at 36 and allowed the most goals in a single game this season with 7. Indy will also have to rebuild their options at the forward position as Brian Brown will be rejoining Harbour View in Jamaica unless another loan deal or permanent contract can be met.
Strengths: Goalkeepers and midfield. Strong fan support.
Areas of concern: Stadium. General Manager. Coach. Defense. Forwards.
Prediction for 2016 season: 9th
The future looked dim for the Railhawks after their owners, Traffic Sports USA, found themselves at the center of a global scandal that involved FIFA and the United States Department of Justice. Vocal Railhawks fans found themselves being covered by major media outlets within the United States and around the world. A rare occasion for mainstream media in North America to cover the NASL. With new owner Steve Malik, the Railhawks front office will be able to invest in the team and attract new players. Malik has already made a statement by resigning midfield veteran, Tiyi Shipalane. But Malik’s focus on rebuilding a team will start with the defense as the Railhawks finished tied for second to last in goals allowed with 49.
Strengths: New owner. Ability to score goals.
Areas of concern: Defense.
Rayo OKC: Joining the NASL at the start of the 2016 spring season.
After the convoluted and complicated outcome of the original OKC FC team and the legal battles that ensued, Oklahoma City will finally have a soccer team in the NASL. This time in the form of a partnership of a foreign soccer club, Rayo Vallecano de Madrid. Rayo currently plays alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain’s top league. However, the deal between Rayo, Oklahoma City, and the NASL raises concerns. First, this will be the city’s second professional soccer team as the OKC Energy currently play in the USL. Second, Rayo is struggling to stay afloat in La Liga and financially. Third, will Rayo attract local players within Oklahoma to play for the team or will this be a reserve squad for the first team back in Spain? This team will play its first season at a local high school in OKC with the ability to add additional seating to the stadium.
Strengths: Rayo owners know how to build a competitive team on a small budget.
Areas of concern: Rayo owners having difficulty financing two teams in two different countries. Team could be another reserve team for Rayo in La Liga. There is an already established pro soccer team in Oklahoma City.
Atlanta Silverbacks: (Credit: Help from Paul Scanling)
The Silverbacks head into the off season facing extinction. Although chairman of the NASL Board of Governors, Mark Frisch, has stated he wants to keep an NASL team in Atlanta, the Silverbacks have yet to find an owner and will most likely have to relocate or fold. There has been strong support for a fan trust to own 49% of the club but the future still looks bleak. After finishing last in the spring season the Silverbacks finished a respectable 6th place in the fall standings and 8th in the combined table. Atlanta’s biggest strength came from the play of Junior Burgos, Jamie Chávez, and Pedro Mendes. All three of these players combined for 18 goals and 15 assists. Unfortunately, it is still unknown if any player on the current roster will be able to stay in Atlanta.
Areas of concern: Future concerning an owner, stadium, naming rights, and roster.
Prediction (If they participate in the 2016 season): 12th
San Antonio Scorpions:
The San Antonio Scorpions went from hoisting the NASL Soccer Bowl championship in 2014 to a horrific train wreak in 2015. At the start of this season owner Gordon Hartman revealed plans to push for a place in MLS, only to hint at dropping to the USL by the end of the season. During this time, Hartman has looked to sell the Scorpions. To make things more complicated 100% of all revenue generated by the club goes directly to Morgan’s Wonderland, a theme park located next to Toyota Field where the Scorpions play. Hartman was able to secure a deal to sell the stadium to the city of San Antonio and Bexar County. The San Antonio Spurs of the NBA will operate and run the stadium and now have twenty years to secure a spot in the MLS. In the meantime, it is uncertain if the Scorpions will be playing anytime soon as reports indicate that everyone on this year’s roster was let go until a new coach is hired. Although the league did announce in early November the Scorpions had resigned forward, Billy Forbes.
Areas of concern: Owner, coach, players and future with the NASL.
Prediction (if they participate in the 2016 season): 13th
Puerto Rico FC: Joining the NASL for the fall 2016 season.
An interesting yet creative move by the league to establish another professional soccer team in Puerto Rico that will compete in a league based in the United States and Canada. The Puerto Rico Islanders existed from 2004 to 2012 saw success in the CONCACAF Champions League and in the USL under the leadership of current Railhawks coach, Colin Clarke. Travel costs, attendance, and lack of funding resulted in the Islanders folding. Insert a professional basketball player in Carmelo Anthony and Puerto Rico has a major professional soccer team once again in the form of Puerto Rico FC. The team will not start competing until the 2016 fall season begins. PRFC has already establish a strong soccer brain trust in Adrian Whitbread and Neil Sillet that could see success on the field. However, travel costs and corporate and fan support will decide if this team succeeds.
Strengths: Solid soccer trust and experience between the front office and coaching staff.
Areas of concern: An Owner who is currently a professional athlete. Fan support and attendance. Travel costs.
Prediction: 14th (Puerto Rico FC will only compete in the fall season).