Despite two clubs ceasing operations after the 2015 North American Soccer League season ended, the league is about to kick-off its sixth year since returning in 2011. With a fresh TV deal announced with beIN SPORTS this week, the NASL can legitimately offer Major League Soccer some much needed competition.
Labeled as the US and Canada’s second division, the relationship between the NASL and MLS has been a strange one from the start. At times they have both looked to work together to better the game. Yet, it seems as if the two leagues are now in an arms race to see which league can expand to the most cities.
The league’s loss of two franchises shows the political game of soccer in the US. San Antonio ceased operations due to the city buying the stadium and installing a USL team in its place. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Silverbacks ceased operations due to the majority of team owners in the league that are unwilling to financially support the team’s existence.
Despite the losses, the NASL has added three new clubs. Miami FC, which is co-owned by AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini, will begin play under the eye of head coach Alessandro Nesta.
Rayo OKC will also begin play as Spanish La Liga team Rayo Vallecano have joined the growing soccer market in North America to partner with an American club. The club will feature the likes of former Celtic striker Georgios Samaras and journeyman midfielder Derek Boateng.
The third team that will join the NASL is Puerto Rico FC. Like the growing list of celebrities getting involved with soccer in the US and Canada, Puerto Rico is no different as NBA star Carmelo Anthony owns the club and will expect big things from the team.
Looking over the rosters of the NASL teams, there are familiar faces. Justin Braun and Lovel Palmer play for Indy Eleven, Miami FC have signed former Tottenham midfielder Wilson Palacios, while former US soccer prodigy Freddy Adu plays for Tampa Bay Rowdies. The New York Cosmos, meanwhile, have signed Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar. While the big name designated players aren’t in tow, the NASL can claim several players that couldn’t find a home in MLS.
The NASL will stick with their split season structure in 2016 with a spring and fall term broken up by a four week summer break. The spring season will only feature 11 clubs while the fall will see all 12 NASL teams join the fray. Puerto Rico will miss out on the spring season. While the spring term will see only ten matches played, the fall session will feature 24, with each team playing the other home and away. While not as straight forward as MLS’s playoffs, the NASL has added a quirk to their league format that fans will argue is better.
With the league’s announcement of another expansion team for 2017, this time in San Francisco, the NASL is adding to the growing number of professional soccer teams in America. The NASL is set for another year of action and it all kicks off on Saturday, April 2.
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