I’m planning on offering weekly predictions for the 2016 NASL season and naming my own Best XI. Some of this will probably show up over at Midfield Press, but given it’s incredibly subjective nature, most will probably be right here.
Ahead of the five matches this weekend’s opening, I wrote up a quick predictions piece over at Midfield Press.
Also, check out these sweet 1987 Topps-style trading card pics that Mike Pendleton has created.
Spring 2016, Week 1
Updated 4/3/16 with video highlights & post-match review
Carolina Railhawks host Minnesota United and while Minnesota haven’t won in Carolina since 2011, I think they will win Saturday.
UPDATE: Even though Minnesota came out of the gate to score first on a rather fortunate and utterly amazing distance shot from Christian Ramirez, it was never able to really muster a consistent attack. All three goals of the match were stellar. Tiyi Shipalane’s chip to bring Carolina level was delightful and Austin Da Luz’s game winning bullet header from a Kareem Moses cross was textbook.
The match seemed to come down to a battle between attacking midfielders. Carolina’s attacking trio of Da Luz on the left wing, Nazmi Albadawi (who also took the captain’s armband) as central attacking mid, and Shipalane out wide right were fast, technically astute, creative, and unafraid. This was the exact opposite of Minnesota’s midfield of Danny Cruz, Brian Speas, and Bernardo Anor who couldn’t seem to get into proper position, put on any pressure, or build up meaningful possession.
Too often the center of the pitch felt abandoned by Minnesota with only Greg Jordan actively trying to keep things afloat. Of course, I think more than a little bit of this was due Carolina’s James Marcelin bossing the midfield. He not only marshaled his own side but consistently and patiently defused Minnesota’s efforts.
Minnesota’s rookie centerback Damion Lowe’s rather languid play couldn’t handle the Railhawks, and his partner in defense Tiago Calvano seemed always either biting off more than he could chew or just letting the play pass by him. It wasn’t as ugly as it could have been for Minnesota or even what I’m suggesting but it was sobering.
In the first of many, many Florida derbies, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers will host expansion side Miami FC. I think this match will result in a draw.
UPDATE: In front of a crowd of not even 2500, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami played out a forgettable draw. The ‘scoring’ was merely the trading of penalty kicks. Miami’s first ever goal was converted by in the 12th minute by striker Dario Cvitanich after Ariel Martinez was cut down by a sloppy tackle from centerback Julius James just outside the six yard box. It was arguably a soft but we’d see a truly flimsy penalty call in the stoppage time. Eternally ineffectual striker Geison jumped up and exploded into the air just inside the box after casual foot out by a Miami centerback Rhett Bernstein. Both sides embellished the contact but that didn’t invalidate the fact that the contact was in fact PK worthy, just disgustingly soft.
Disgustingly soft was the entire match sandwiched between the penalty kicks. Although, I am quite certain that Ft. Lauderdale’s PC would disagree. The Strikers’ dangerman was consistently on the receiving end of hard and often unnecessary challenges and tackles, one of which finally got Miami’s Jorge Luis Corrales sent off. The only bright spots in the game were fullback Jonathan Borrajo for Miami and young central midfielder Luis Felipe Fernandes for Ft. Lauderdale. Borrajo has long been a NASL standout and it was nice to see him healthy and continuing to perform. Fernandes is a youngster who could turn some heads in the league. In his debut, he was superbly accurate in his passing and more than committed to his role’s defensive duties. Now if the Strikers can actually string together those passes and if Miami can actually take a proper shot, then things in south Florida might actually get interesting.
Indy Eleven travel to St. Petersburg, Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Even though I think the Rowdies are going to do well this season, I suspect that Indy will win this one.
UPDATE: Although Indy was able to mute the attack of the Rowdies without much effort, it couldn’t get itself organized enough in attack to press the play. Thus, a scoreless draw. However, this match was less dull than that happening farther down state. For me, it was the quality of Indy’s defense that really stood out, specifically leftback Nemanja Vukovic and centerback Greg Janicki. It was good to see the latter back playing comfortably and the former making it clear that being a division three star defender was no fluke. Yet once again, Indy’s attack was muted. I’m not a believer in Justin Braun as a winger especially when buttressed by Lovel Palmer at rightback. If Indy can get its service providing sorted, then it will be a threat.
The Rowdies on the other hand suffered from a too crowded midfield impotent to create anything of note. Starting as a striker (the position he needs to be in rather than languishing in the midfield), Junior Burgos was the only threat from Tampa. Striker partner, Tom Heinemann was his usual self–a opportunist poacher posing as a target man who’s always a few touches too late–and wingers Kalif Alhassan, Eric Avila, and center midfielder Michael Nanchoff combine for only one successful cross on the evening. If Tampa Bay is going to live up to expectations, then it’s going to need to spend a lot of time on its midfielder’s possession and communication.
Rayo OKC is another expansion team and it will host FC Edmonton. I would be very, very surprised if Edmonton got a win.
UPDATE: This was the match I was most interested in watching and it turned out to be the most interesting of the three dull, dull draws of the evening. Unlike its fellow expansion side Miami FC, Rayo OKC was able to draw nearly 6500 for its first ever match. Those in attendance got to see a team that seemingly has its identity sorted. Alen Marcina is a manager that favors the harder edge from his players. During his tenure in San Antonio, the team became synonymous with the undisciplined approach to soccer. Yet, what was on display in Yukon, OK wasn’t sloppy tackling and indignant hostility, but rather a simple physicality often lacking in North American play. Case in point, defensive midfielder Derek Boateng who bossed FC Edmonton players rather than bully them setting a clear tone for the evening–this is real football. With Boateng owning the center of the pitch it was to attacking leftback Michel that all of Rayo OKC’s offense was funneled through and this was a problem. A sure talent, the veteran Michel had an off night and was woefully inaccurate with his passing and crossing. Unfortunately, Rayo OKC had no plan B. After going a man up in the thirtieth minute, Rayo should have put the match to bed in the second half. That did not happen, for the above reason but also because Edmonton ‘keeper Matt Van Oekel willed it so.
Van Oekel was the sole reason FC Edmonton did not lose by a large margin. Although the goalkeeper committed an egregious error that almost cost the team its road point, he recovered and snuffed out every Rayo attack. It should be noted that after losing his partner, centerback Pape Diakite put in a rather superb performance himself. When Rayo OKC finally brought on adroit winger Billy Forbes and star striker Georgios Samaras, Edmonton already had enough belief in themselves to weather the storm. Rayo had missed its chance to kill off the game.
Win: New York Cosmos
The reigning champions New York Cosmos host the Ottawa Fury in a replay of last season’s final. Ottawa is entirely rebuilt and I can’t see them defeating the Cosmos.
UPDATE: This turned out to be exactly what I thought it would, i.e. a casually dominant Cosmos dispatching a remarkably underwhelming side. Any team in a rebuilding year is going to experience a fair share of bumps. To open the season with such a profound loss has to sting for the Fury. Ottawa didn’t play poorly although the lost was profound. The Fury are a team of individuals playing with no team ethos or identity, and it may take the entire Spring for this to come to the fore.
I can’t help but think it brought it on itself. First, although Kyle Porter played a season as a wingback for Atlanta Silverbacks, he is by no means a fullback and it showed. Second, Mozzi Gyorio (much like Geison Moura in Ft. Lauderdale) doesn’t have the quality necessary to be a starter in this league especially not over the like of James Bailey or Jonny Steele. But there were some bright spots such as leftback Timbo whose learning curve making the jump from third division USL to second division NASL is minute. Gerardo Bruna could be the striker the Fury need, that is if he is ever paired with a proper partner. But the 4-3-3 deployed by new manager Paul Dalglish was a mess looking disorganized and absent of intent. Cosmos only had to quietly wait for the fissures to widen and when they inevitably did, goals were scored. Jairo Arrieta and Juan Arango are not the kind of players who let opportunties escape them. The Cosmos don’t play down to a team but rather sit back letting opponents make mistakes while all the while playing a deliberate, controlled, and well-orchestrated game.
The Predicted Spring Standings
- Indy Eleven 1-0-0 3pts
- Minnesota United 1-0-0 3pts
- New York Cosmos 1-0-0 3pts
- Rayo OKC 1-0-0 3pts
- Ft. Lauderdale 0-1-0 1pts
- Miami FC 0-1-0 1pts
- Tampa Bay Rowdies 0-0-1 0pts
- Carolina Railhawks 0-0-1 0pts
- Ottawa Fury 0-0-1 0pts
- FC Edmonton 0-0-1 0pts
- Jacksonville Armada 0-0-0 0pts
The Actual Spring Standings
- New York Cosmos 1-0-0 3pts
- Carolina Railhawks 1-0-0 3pts
- Miami FC 0-1-0 1pt
- Ft. Lauderdale Strikers 0-1-0 1pt
- FC Edmonton 0-1-0 1pt
- Indy Eleven 0-1-0 1pt
- Rayo OKC 0-1-0 1pt
- Tampa Bay Rowdies 0-1-0 1pt
- Jacksonville Armada 0-0-0
- Minnesota United 0-0-1
- Ottawa Fury 0-0-1
Best XI, Week 1
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