The NASL is often ignored by North American soccer fans especially around times like tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League final, which could be a major boon for the league. But the second leg of the final between Montreal and Club America will have a distinctly NASL flavor.
Not only did Montreal participate in the NASL until the end of the 2011 season but five players on the Impact’s current roster have experience in North American’s second division. One of those players, Kristian Nicht, has been transferred from Indy 11 to the Impact in time for tonight’s final due to a rash of goalkeeper injuries. Nicht will be backed up by Canadian Jon Smits, who is on loan from FC Edmonton of NASL. Smits had the lowest goals against average in NASL last season. However, Smits was available on loan because Edmonton signed Matt Van Oekel away from Minnesota during the offseason (Van Oekel has been considered one of the top NASL goalkeepers over the past four seasons).
Nicht was the first-ever signing for Indy 11 and he impressed between the pipes last season as the German netminder helped keep the expansion side in many games when the run of play was against them. Nicht helped Indy 11 in a season where record attendances cheered on a side that was often not competitive with the rest of NASL.
When evaluating Nicht’s game, he is an excellent reflexive shot-stopper and also very good at organizing his backline on set pieces. Having spent part of the MLS preseason with Montreal, he will be able to communicate well with the backline. Having played four games already this season for Indy 11, including this past Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Carolina, Nicht enters tonight’s final in good form and in match shape.
Montreal was able to use its time in lower-division soccer, first USL and then NASL, to build a supporters base but also a deep knowledge of the depth of the player pool in lower divisions. The Impact’s move for Nicht is just the latest in series of moves that began the Impact’s final year in NASL (2011) to find the best talent in the lower-divisions and bring them to Montreal.
Tonight’s final is a big night for Major League Soccer but also an important statement for NASL. Without NASL, Montreal would not be where they are currently, and the signing of Nicht indicates that the NASL’s talent pool continues to be at a high enough level to potentially influence a continental final.
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