Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Great Bloody Shambles NASL 2017 Season Preview

Eight teams will compete in 32 regular season games for four championship spots in 2017.

By: James Cormack, Brian Cook, Jordan Kalt, and Brandon Cockrum

FC Edmonton: (James Cormack)

The Eddies have always been known as a tough side to break down, retaining Albert Watson and Papé Diakité is an important corner stone for that team to build around. 
At the other end of the spectrum Edmonton struggled to score goals last season, if they had to rebuild a back line as well that could see them struggle. However, they have retained probably more of their 2016 squad than any other team. 

Edmonton have bolstered their attack with the addition of Northern Ireland international Dean Shiels. If Dean can bring back the form he showed at Kilmarnock and Rangers in Scotland, he could be the answer to where goals will come from, he can create just as many as he can score, if chemistry can form quickly between Shiels and Tomi Ameobi the Edmonton attack could be much more potent in 2017.

Former Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels with his son and former Kilmarnock striker Dean Shiels.

On of the biggest roster losses for FC Edmonton in the off season has been that of Matt Van Oekel who departed for MLS side Real Salt Lake. Van Oekel was easily the top goalkeeper in the league in 2016 and the smart money would appear to be on former Toronto and Timbers keeper Chris Konopka filling the void.

With 2016 being the most successful FC Edmonton have had to date and having kept together most of that squad, you would have to consider them as a potential championship playoff team once again.

2016 - Finished 3rd in combined, lost in playoffs.
2015 - Finished 7th in combined standings.
2014 - Finished 6th in combined standings.

2013 - Finished 5th in spring, 6th in fall.
2012 - Finished 8th in standings.
2011 - Finished 6th in standings.

Indy Eleven: (James Cormack)

Indy have kept a large core of the 2016 roster that made it to the championship final, but have also lost some players in one critical area. Other than not winning the final Indy Eleven know they have one area where they need to improve and that is gaining points away from home. Tim Hankinson is retained as coach after giving Indy their most successful season to date in 2016.

Dylan Mares, Duke Lacroix and Omar Gordon all shared time on Indy's left midfield and all three have now departed the team. Indy Eleven have added Ben Speas who has been playing in this position in pre season, but there is little depth for that role. The biggest changes in Indy Eleven's roster have come in midfield and it may take some time for them to find their way again. 

Mexico star Gerardo Torrado returns to Indy Eleven in 2017

Along with Speas, the Eleven have added Craig Henderson, an experienced New Zealand midfielder who has played mostly in Sweden and Norway, and young Tanner Thompson who has been one of Indiana University's best attacking midfielders in recent years.

The back line may not start as expected with Colin Falvey still recovering from surgery but with Marco Franco, Lovel Palmer, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Nemanja Vukovic in front of retained goalkeeper Jon Busch the back should be tight enough. There is a lack of depth though, Indy added Anthony Manning who has limited game time with Portland Timbers and Timbers II and can utilize Daniel Keller in central defense, any early injury or suspension could be costly.

Éamon Zayed and Justin Braun return in attack for Indy but again there is not a great deal of depth in this position should either player go missing. Indy added David Goldsmith from Butler University who has no real professional experience, and to date no sign of potential signing Dino Williams from Montego Bay, their season is still in progress in Jamaica.

Indy Eleven should make playoffs again, spring and fall positioning may depend on their performances away from home and finding chemistry with some new players. Despite some small roster shake up they still have the potential to win the NASL Championship.

2016 - Finished 2nd in combined standings, Spring Champions, Championship runner up.
2015 - Finished 9th in combined standings
2014 - Finished 9th in combined standings

Jacksonville Armada: (James Cormack) 

Jacksonville Armada have now taken on the mantle of "league owned team" after the departure of owner Mark Frisch. Not an ideal position to be in as we have seen in the past with Atlanta Silverbacks. Mark Lowry who took over as coach from Tony Meola in 2016 has been made head coach full time.

Jacksonsville's first two years as a club have been disappointing, having finished 11th and bottom in their inaugural season they again finished 11th in 2016 and escaped being in last place in combined standings thanks to Puerto Rico only coming in during the fall season.

Armada have a smattering of experience left over from 2016 in players like Mechack Jérôme, and Charles Eloundou, and have added one or two recognizable players including a full contract for Zach Steinberger along with Aaron Pitchkolan, Drew Beckie, and Jack Blake.

I'll be honest a read through the roster hardly inspires confidence, its going to take a lot of work for them to get a settled back line, their best chances of goals are probably going to come from the midfield. There are only two listed forwards, 21 year old Derek Gebhard has only had 270 mins of playing time in last two seasons and Trinidad striker Jonathon Glenn who has been playing in Iceland for four years, scored no goals in 2016 at all.

I would love to be more optimistic, and I wish good fortune for JAX but I think it is going to be a very difficult season for them and I have to peg them for last place, operating on a budget provided by the league and playing at a new location having already seen dwindling attendances in 2016, it will take a very strong team bond and a lot of belief from this team to get anywhere close to mounting a challenge for a playoff spot.

2016 - Finished 11th in combined standings.
2015 - Finished 11th in combined standings.

Miami FC: (Brian Cook)

While Miami can’t buy the Beatles love, the money they have spent in the first two seasons since joining the North American Soccer League might buy them a championship. That isn’t to knock their moves. The moves Miami FC have made since the beginning set a new standard for team building as well as raised their expectations and 2017 isn’t any different.

The addition of Dylan Mares from Indy Eleven as well as Stefano Pinho coming to Miami brings NASL experience as well as strong players (not to mention the host of other names Miami has brought in for 2017.)

The transactions by Miami FC have made it clear, they want the playoffs. Finishing last in the Spring and 5th in the Fall and 7th in the combined standings Miami FC’s transactions spell out the need to finish in the top four for the playoffs.

Money can’t buy you a title even in a league like NASL so Miami’s biggest obstacle is not to rely solely on the skill and the name on the back of the jerseys but bring the tactical awareness to utilize those names they brought in.

2016 – Finished 7th in combined standings. 

Dylan Mares and Michael Lahoud will be aiming for a starting spot on the same team in 2017

New York Cosmos: (Brian Cook)

To say the worst off season (short of Jacksonville Armada) for any NASL team was New York Cosmos would be an understatement. There was a strong possibility they wouldn’t even be in the 2017 season but thanks to the checkbook of Rocco B. Commisso we are gifted with the return of NASL’s 2016 champion.

The biggest challenge for New York Cosmos was their need to rebuild their team following all the issues regarding the future of NASL and their club. They have done just that. Walter Restrepo’s return following a short spell in MLS/USL, Jimmy Maurer, who was a member of the title winning team last season, returns again. That's just the small list of it. 

While also returning quite a few names the Cosmos also worked to bring in new players that will surely meet the Cosmos standard they have set. Khalif Alhassan formerly of Tampa Bay Rowdies and Minnesota United has signed along with former La Liga midfielder Javi Marquez who will certainly help stabilize their midfield even more, and more recently Dejan Jakovic bringing international experience to an already rich team. New York Cosmos fans should be excited to see this team in 2017

The Cosmos have done a great job to rebuild a team that was all but dead. I think if they start off strong and with the names they brought back from last year they should be right back in line for the NASL title. 

2016 - Finished 1st in combined standings, NASL Champions.
2015 - Finished 1st in combined standings, NASL Champions.
2014 - Finished 3rd in combined standings, lost in playoffs.
2013 - Finished 1st in fall standings, Fall winners, Soccer Bowl winners.

North Carolina FC: (Jordan Kalt)

Re branded and renewed in their determination to push the growth of soccer in the state of North Carolina, jeering chants of “What the hell’s a RailHawk?” are now a thing of yesteryear.

Carolina's rebrand sees the orange out and the dark blue in, no more Railhawk.

Colin Clarke is still beloved by his supporters and returns to the manager’s seat hoping to lead his team to bounce back after a disappointing mid/low finish in the 2016 table. He’ll have many familiar faces to help him improve. Austin Da Luz, Connor Tobin, Tiyi Shipalane and Brian Shriver spearhead the returnees.

With a deeply talented midfield, Clarke’s club has never relied on forwards to score their goals, but one player that North Carolina should hope to see more from will be 27 year old striker, Matt Fondy. A pickup before the Fall portion of last season following his brief and lackluster stint with Jacksonville Armada, remember that Fondy had impressed once upon a time.

Two years ago he was a crucial part of Louisville City FC’s attack. With 28 appearances and 22 goals for City in 2015 he won USL’s Golden Boot and moved (at that time) up the ladder to the NASL. During his few short months last year in North Carolina, Fondy showed glimpses of promise but certainly fell below his potential.

The majority of North Carolina’s new signings have been pedestrian, picking up several from USL’s Colorado Switchbacks and from other teams in the recently reclassified D2 league. At goal,  no move has been made to sign a replacement for Akira Fitzgerald, the “Irish Ninja” who handled the majority of goalkeeping duties for several years. So it seems likely that the young Mack Robinson, signed in April of last year, will receive further opportunity to turn his collegiate success at DePaul University into professional accolade.

Given that many other NASL clubs have improved their rosters markedly, the question for this revamped North Carolina squad is whether they’ve made the right moves to top their disappointing finish in last season’s standings.

2016 - Finished 8th in combined standings.
2015 - Finished 6th in combined standings.
2014 - Finished 5th in combined standings.
2013 - Finished 2nd in spring and fall.
2012 - Finished 4th in standings, losing semi finalist. 2011 - Finished 1st in standings, losing semi finalist.

Puerto Rico FC: (Brandon Cockrum)

Puerto Rico FC made a respectable debut in 2016’s fall season, finishing ninth out of 12 teams and near the end of the season going unbeaten in seven games. With 8 goals and 4 assists in 19 games, striker “Pito” Ramos was the club’s most outstanding player; however, the team’s offense left much to be desired, averaging only 0.86 goals per game. It’s tough to win scoring at that rate, even tougher when you concede 1.41 goals per match, as PRFC did last year.

Ramos returns to the Orange in 2017, along with defender and captain Cristiano Dias, as well as young player of the year nominees Kyle Culbertson, Sidney Rivera and “Jackie” Marrero. With their key players and young talent in the fold, club leaders looked for more experienced players to add to the roster this off season, resulting in upgrades across the board.

Forwards Conor Doyle (Derby County, DC United) and Jairo Puerto (CD Marathon, Honduran national team) bring international experience to the attack, while midfielders Walter Ramirez (Indy Eleven, Tampa Bay Rowdies) “Yuma” Monsálvez (Rayo Vallecano, Rayo OKC) and Jordi Quintile (Sporting KC, Barcelona B) bring diverse skills to give the club multiple options for situational needs. Less heralded but solid additions to the defense should help the backline improve upon their 2016 performance as well.

With participation in three tournaments since the end of the 2016 season PRFC have been the league’s most active team on the field. In early March, the squad competed in the most competitive of those tournaments, the Caribbean Club Championship, finishing second place in their group. It was not enough for them to advance to CONCACAF Champions League but the match time should help the team’s readiness for the NASL season. A strong start could give the club the positive vibes and confidence needed to gel as a team and compete for a playoff spot.

 - Finished 9th in fall, 12th in combined standings (did not play in spring)

San Francisco Deltas: (Jordan Kalt)

Workers installing seats from Candlestick Park in Kezar Stadium, home of SF Deltas.

Previewing inaugural seasons are tricky. Who is this guy? He has no identity within this team. He’s just another in a pack of assorted pieces that are supposed to be able to work together. There are no team stats to look back on. Relationships are few or non-existent between the new teammates. “Well, he formerly…” precedes the only info anyone can give you.
Looking ahead to 2017 all we can go on is what these guys have been and what they have done.

So, formerly…

Danny Szetela, of Cosmos fame, was a foundational presence in New York’s midfield and remained their rock through four years of largely successful roster changes and three championships.

Head coach Marc Dos Santos comes to San Francisco on the heels of back to back runner-up finishes. Those recent successes came with NASL’s old Ottawa Fury in 2015 and most recently at the helm of Swope Park Rangers in the USL 2016 Cup.

Two experienced Brazilians, winger Jackson Pereira and centerback Reiner Ferreira, have also signed with the club. Both are versatile players who have successfully held a variety of different roles at former clubs, notably as right and left backs. They will be joined by a couple faces more familiar to the NASL in Greg Jordan (a former Minnesota United fan favorite) and defender Nana Attakora, who has spent the majority of his years in MLS before most recently playing for the NASL’s Scorpions and Strikers.

To cap off an already intimidating squad, head coach Dos Santos has been reunited with Romauld Peiser, former Ottawa Fury star and one of the best goalkeepers the NASL has seen in the modern era.

Sure, they may be sporting the ugliest logo in the league and a questionable team name but CEO Brian Helmick and his team of techy investors have clearly worked very hard to drum up excitement for the beginnings of this club and have put the money down to back it. First years are always difficult to predict, but at the very least this team looks combustible with potential. Dangerous.


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  1. Couple of notes on the NC FC stuff... Akira fell out of favour after the thrashing we received from the Cosmos last year. Goalkeeping duties have been mostly handled since then by Brian Sylvestre who is the starter this year. Very much a stand out, by the end of the season I wouldn't be surprised to see him turn out to be this year's Matt Van Oekel.

    As for Colin Clarke being beloved... a lot of us think he should be gone already.

    Lastly, we picked up Lance Laing a week or two ago. Quality signing.

    1. Yes I would from a coach perspective there has not been a lot of forward momentum or progress from Clarke, great start last season then fizzed out. Maybe been in too long

  2. Thanks for the info. Lance is a great pickup