The second-division North American Soccer League (NASL) has been rocked by an offseason of tumult – both the Atlanta Silverbacks and San Antonio Scorpions have suspended operations, even though some NASL fans hold out the hope that the Scorpions could return in another market. NASL has added a team in Oklahoma City, associated with left-wing Spanish club Rayo Vallecano. Oklahoma City is already home to a very successful USL (third-division) team and seem a poor fit for a club with a leftist political slant. Today the league announced its 2016 schedule.
Miami FC, a new entry playing just down the road from the established Fort Lauderdale Strikers have put together a compelling roster. The two teams will face off in the season opener on April 2nd. Fort Lauderdale has already played a friendly match against German giant Schalke 04 in Orlando this past Sunday, giving the club a jump on the rest of the NASL. Miami FC began training yesterday and Jacksonville who have had arguably the most impressive NASL offseason, will have the opening weekend off.
NASL’s peculiar split-season schedule has only a 10-game spring campaign. In that mini-season the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who per my sources have spent more money luring players this offseason than any other NASL club will play eight of ten games in the state of Florida. This should give the Rowdies an early jump.
Each of Florida’s four NASL teams have had more successful and less dramatic offseasons than the lone first division team in the state, Orlando City SC. The Lions have been beset by internal issues, staff firings and cultural clashes. Much more on this in the near future, but with the MLS season less than two months away from kickoff, the Lions appear to finally be getting things in order.
Back to NASL – Fort Lauderdale’s “moneyball” approach has seen the club finish ahead of its biggest rival, Tampa Bay each of the last two seasons. During that period the Rowdies have rivaled MLS-bound Minnesota and the world-renowned New York Cosmos in terms of spending, yet results have been significantly worse than both those sides and the more fiscally disciplined Strikers. This season could represent a do or die year for the Rowdies, but the general sense within the soccer community is that the organization has taken on a bad vibe and players simply underperform in what is a poisonous atmosphere in St Petersburg.
The atmosphere is anything but toxic in Jacksonville, where new Manager Tony Meola and Assistant Jim Rooney (who turned down an offer to do the same job in Fort Lauderdale and coach the Strikers new reserve team that is playing in the fourth-division NPSL) have built a roster of accomplished domestic players. The Armada could realistically go from worst to first in a league that is tightly balanced and hyper-competitive. Miami FC has built a mixed squad of players with both some accomplished foreign names and veteran American players.
The jury remains out on whether southeastern Florida can support two pro teams, especially two lower division ones. But Miami FC’s player moves thus far show a greater understanding of the soccer landscape in North America than Jacksonville did in year one for that team, or debatably than Tampa Bay with all the money they have spent still demonstrate.
NASL will have a ten-game Spring Season and a 22-game Fall Season in which Puerto Rico FC will join the league’s schedule. The Puerto Rico club will be eligible for the postseason despite not participating in the Spring Season.