The early off-season reshuffling among North American Soccer League teams has begun in earnest. Player movement is the most eagerly anticipated news of the off-season. There has been some movement that’s had more than a slight impact on the balance of power between teams. But on Wednesday three new managers were announced marking a decidedly new direction for teams at every tier of NASL.
Minnesota United made a move that had been mumbled throughout the Loons’ fandom. Longtime manager Manny Lagos was moved from his head coaching role to technical director or, rather, sporting director. Minnesota’s manager for the 2016 season will be long time assistant coach and fan favorite Carl Craig. Northern Pitch and Howler contributor Wes Burdine broke the news and has been superb covering it.
In his explanation of the front office moves Minnesota was making, Burdine also hinted at two potential roster moves: 2015 Golden Boot winner Stefano Pinho looks to be snagged from Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and former FC Edmonton left winger Lance Laing. It looks as though Minnesota has signed Stefano to a two year deal. Laing is still a question mark. With Stefano alongside 2014 Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez, Minnesota have secured a young, talented, and hungry attacking duo at forward. As the organization looks to be ready to join Major League Soccer in 2017, these moves can be looked at foundational as the team looks to self-promote.
The Minnesota announcement was sandwiched in-between two other managerial reveals. Although Stefano looks to be leaving Ft. Lauderdale, the Strikers have a new manager in former Brazilian U-17 coach Caio Zanardi. Brought into the Strikers organization by the new Brazilian ownership group in July of this year, it was no secret among Strikers supporters that Zanardi didn’t want to be merely general manager but full manager.
When once and future head coach Gunter Kronsteiner returned for the second half of the 2015 season getting the team into the playoffs after a dreadful start and middle of the season, there were murmurs that Zanardi wanted total control. Now he’ll have it for the 2016 season. It should be very interesting to see what player personal Zanardi brings in, I suspect we’ll see more Brazilian talent make the journey north. Ft. Lauderdale has perhaps the thinnest roster of any team in the NASL so it can only improve.
Another team that can only improve is Indy Eleven. With two seasons under its belt, the organization hasn’t really tasted any on the pitch success. With a record of 14-18-25, the sellout crowds that have come to Carroll Stadium have often left underwhelmed, to say the least. Interim manager Tim Regan returns to the assistant coach role he had under Jurgen Somner as Tim Hankinson takes control of the team.
Hankinson was the San Antonio Scorpions first manager for two seasons leading it to a regular season title. San Antonio has since devolved into a quagmire, so Hankinson’s return to NASL may sting, but I doubt that the Scorpions will be around in 2016 to feel it. Meanwhile, Hankinson has to hit the ground running in Indianapolis. The departure of goalkeeper Kristin Nicht and centerback Erick Norales (the number one and number two all-time minutes played leaders) means that Harkinson has a lot of rebuilding work to do. Indy is a mess out on the wings, at forward, and in central defense.
If the organization truly wants to compete, it needs to overhaul its roster post haste. Should there be the desire for steady, experienced players who can still play well and guide younger, developing prospects, Indy wouldn’t do poorly to consider signing recent San Jose Earthquakes central midfielder Khari Stephenson and leftback Jordan Stewart. Both have gas in the tank and can bring a level of professionalism to the squad that can only improve the team dynamic.
Keeping the team dynamic in place despite a new manager is the Ottawa Fury. Although forward Tom Heinemann is gone, new manager Paul Dalglish has retained the services of goalkeeping coach Bruce Grobbelaar, the Liverpool legend who is perhaps most responsible for Romuald Peiser turning from an adequate journeyman ‘keeper into the Golden Glove juggernaut he became this season, and assistant coach Martin Nash. Ottawa like Indy and Minnesota have made major changes but yet kept a certain continuity that will prove to be vital in any success had in 2016.
Look for the next round of NASL news to be player-based, i.e. signings and departures. We already know that left winger Lance Laing will be finding a new home outside of FC Edmonton (I’ve had thoughts on that already). Edmonton has already made two very good moves. The first being the signing of forward Jake Keegan, a MLS draftee who has played the last couple of seasons in Ireland. Keegan notched double digit goals for Galway United over his two seasons there. As one of the first notable moves of the 2015-2016 off-season, Keegan has already garnered admiration as move that could pay off big for Edmonton. With the team retaining forward Daryl Fordyce and winger Sainey Nyassi, the attack in Edmonton has improved.
There are also floating rumors of Ft. Lauderdale Strikers part-owner, the Brazilian legend Ronaldo, might be flexing some of his ‘muscle’ to land equally legendary but still active countryman Ronaldinho. This may be pure wild speculation, but given the arrival of Kleberson then Senna then Raul to the league, it’s not out of the question. The move would certainly raise the profile of the south Florida team as it gears up for a market fight with NASL expansion side Miami FC and the eternally about to happen David Beckham Miami United.