While we tend to focus on Major League Soccer and the National Team on this blog, we also like to pay tribute to the other competitions that are staged in this country and our neighbors to the north, Canada. In that spirit we preview the North American Soccer League. The NASL, after two solid seasons of rebirth as the USSF’s 2nd tier, enters a new chapter in their progression as they have changed their scheduling structure for the 2013 season.
This idea for split seasons has been adopted from leagues that start in Mexico and go all the way south into the Americas. The champions of the split seasons will face each other in the Soccer Bowl Final at the end of the fall season. The spring season will run from April 6th till the fourth of July, while the fall season begins on August 3rd and closes on November 2nd.
While it’s a shame that the Puerto Rico Islanders will take a sabbatical and not play in the spring or fall season, the full return of the New York Cosmos will make some big noise in a fall season that will have eight sides as the spring season will have seven.
It’s time to review the sides that will start in the NASL’s very first spring season to see who will finish top of the league. Get them ready to be the first finalist of the 2013 NASL Soccer Bowl final.
TAMPA BAY ROWDIES (2012 NASL Soccer Bowl Champions): Ricky Hill gets ready for his title defense with the Rowdies as he knows it’s going to be an interesting season as they will be chased by the league instead of them chasing for the title. Luke Mulholland returns as the only player to win the first two Soccer Bowl titles with the Rowdies and Minnesota Stars.
Mike Ambersley returns to fill the net with plenty of goals with tough defender Frankie Sanfilippo and Jay Needham. Shane Hill (Coach Hill’s son) will be designated to take penalties when they are called with Andrew Fontein in goal.
At the moment the Rowdies are considered the favorites to finish the season, but could take a bump if injuries come at them hard.
MINNESOTA STARS (2012 NASL Soccer Bowl Finalists): Joy came to the fans of the Stars when they finally got a brand new owner with Local Minnesota Businessman Dr. William McGuire.
But what an amazing strike tandem they will have with bringing over Etienne Barbara who was with the Whitecaps in MLS last year and the San Antonio Scorpions forward Pablo Campos who were teammates with the Carolina Railhawks two seasons ago. Let’s also not forget about Simone Bracalello who has been a solid scorer for this side.
The midfield will be solid once again with Miguel Ibarra and veteran Aaron Pitchkolan who was also with the Scorpions from last season as well as Bryan Arguez who has come over from FC Edmonton.
Can the Stars try to knock off the Rowdies and steal that top spot away to make a return to the Soccer Bowl final? I believe they can under Manny Lagos.
SAN ANTONIO SCORPIONS: What an amazing job the Scorpions did in their inaugural season of the NASL. Tim Hankinson did a marvelous job guiding a side that was strong, competitive and never said die in all their regular season games, but fell to the Minnesota Stars in the Semi-Finals of last year’s playoffs.
They took some heavy losses especially with Pablo Campos going to Minnesota. Yet they still have Kevin Harmse and Walter Ramirez in midfield that will be strong along with Hans Denissen up top. Blake Wagner and Greg Janicki on the backline with Pat Hannigan in the net.
The main question for the Scorpions will be of a possible sophomore slump after having a fantastic first season in the league. With a brand new stadium almost completed and the first in the NASL, new pressure will be coming and hopefully for the better.
FT. LAUDERDALE STRIKERS: Historic Lockhart Stadium is getting ready for another season of Strikers soccer and they can’t wait when Daryl shore’s crew starts to get their hands dirty to improve their position and return to the Soccer Bowl final when they were last in 2011.
A pair of former Chicago Fire players will help boost the side in former Costa Rican international striker Andy Herron and Honduran Defender Ivan Guerrero who will help out on the back line. Midfielder Walter Restrepo will help out with Herron on the offensive side of the ball is in his third season with the Strikers.
Matt Glaeser is their number one keeper and will be in the net to get his side to the top half of the table.
The Strikers have finished in the middle of the pack for the last two seasons and somehow they need to find a way to get things going again. They will be competitive this spring season, but to have a good start is very vital.
CAROLINA RAILHAWKS: After a good first season as head coach Colin Clarke has a big task right now to continue that trend in the 2013 season. Running this Railhawks side that is use to success needs to get back to the top of the league.
Nicholas Addlery who was a part of Clarke’s Islanders sides has re-joined him in Cary and will be joined with Zack Schilawski up top while Ty Shipalane will bring support from the midfield. Shipalane will have Austin DaLuz in the midfield along with Nick Millington to help out. Akira Fitzgerald will be manning the net to give this side a chance to get some wins.
This team is my surprise pick to make some noise and possibly to knock off Tampa Bay or Minnesota to grab that top spot. This side could make a strong run into the US Open Cup as well.
ATLANTA SILVERBACKS: What a crazy season it was last season when the club fired their head coach and brought over Eric Wynalda as their interim head coach due to his performance with Cal FC in the US Open Cup.
After several games before returning to Los Angeles as a Fox Soccer analyst, Brian Haynes took the position and full time. While Wynalda has returned to the Silverbacks as their Technical Director I believe that this is the true start for the Silverbacks to become a better side.
Defender Mark Bloom who was signed from the USL Pro’s Charlotte Eagles will be coming home as the Marietta, Ga. Native will get a taste of second division soccer will link up with in the backline with Chris Klute, Shane Moroney and Willie Hunt. Midfield needs some work with Pablo Cruz continuing on since coming over from Cal FC and helping out Richie Menjivar who was signed from Turin FC in El Salvador. Atlanta native Jahbari Willis was signed from the reserves and could help out his side tallying some goals.
While this is a brand new start for the Silverbacks and changing their shield at the same time, improvements will come slow. If things do gel they have a shot at getting out of the bottom and possible into the middle of the pack.
FC EDMONTON: Colin Miller who was an assistant for the Vancouver Whitecaps has been named Head Coach since this past end of November of 2012. The former Rangers player will have his hands full after a poor 2012 season.
The club has already signed former Minnesota Stars midfielder Neil Hlavaty to help out Kenny Caceros, Shaun Saiko and Chris Kooy in the midfield. While in defense David Proctor, Paul Hamilton and Antonio Rago remain intact with Edson Edward Lance Laing coming over to the team.
Michael Cox and Elvir Gigolaj are the strikers currently, but I believe Edmonton will find someone in trades, or in the NASL combine.
At the moment FC Edmonton needs a good start in the spring season and solid play to get some confidence. If that happens maybe a better finish to continue into the fall season, but that would be in the middle of the pack.
And now, my predictions for the spring.
2013 SPRING SEASON FINISH
2: Tampa Bay
4: San Antonio
5: Ft. Lauderdale
6: FC Edmonton