Cosmos favored to claim spring title

[NASL: Preview] The North American Soccer League begins its fourth season with 10 teams, up from seven at the start of the 2013 campaign. The New York Cosmos, mid-season arrivals, won the fall championship and league title, while Indy Eleven and Ottawa have been added for 2014.

Saturday, April 12

7:30 pm ET
Ft. Lauderdale vs. Ottawa
Indy Eleven vs. Carolina, ESPN3
Tampa Bay vs. FC Edmonton
8:30 pm ET
San Antonio vs. Minn. United
Sunday, April 13
5:00 pm ET
New York vs. Atlanta

The Cosmos are our favorites to win the nine-game spring season ahead of Tampa Bay and San Antonio, which have also spent heavily in the offseason, and Indy Eleven, which will open Saturday against Carolina before a sellout crowd in a game broadcast on ESPN3 as part of a season-long deal to broadcast a game of the week. Here's how the 10 teams look.

1. New York Cosmos
Give lots of credit to Coach Giovanni Savarese and his players. They got the job done amid all the hype about the return of the Cosmos. No, they weren't the star-studded teams of the old days, but they lost just once in 14 regular-season games and won the Soccer Bowl with a 1-0 win at Atlanta. The key move in the offseason was securing the return of former Spanish international Marcos Senna for a second season. Also back are defenders Ayoze and Roversio and midfielder Diomar Diaz. The front line has been strengthened by the additions of Dutchman Han Denissen from San Antonio and Norwegian Mads Stokkelien from Stabaek. No, the Cosmos don't have a lot of big names besides Senna, but they should again have the league's deepest squad.
2013 Record:
9-1-4. Coach: Giovanni Savarese. Stadium: Shuart Stadium (capacity: 11,929).

2. Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Rowdies finished above .500 in both half-seasons and averaged almost two goals a game, but they'll have felt the 2013 campaign was a disappointment. New majority owner Bill Edwards has not been shy about upgrading the Rowdies, signing 2013 Golden Boot winner Brian Shriver (15 goals) from Carolina and acquiring goalie Matt Pickens from the New England Revolution. Shriver's signing gives the Rowdies both the Golden Boot winner and the Golden Ball winner, Bulgarian Georgi Hristov, who scored 12 goals for the Rowdies in 2013. Pickens' signing gives Tampa Bay two starters from Colorado's 2010 MLS title team along with Anthony Wallace, who has one cap for the USA. The midfield also got a boost with the addition of Swede Christophe Lallet from Hammarby and Englishman Darel Russell from Toronto FC.
2013 Records: 5-4-3, 5-4-5. Coach: Ricky Hill. Stadium: Al Lang Stadium (capacity: 7,227).

3. San Antonio Scorpions
The Scorpions made a late surge in the spring season, winning their last five games to climb to within one point of champion Atlanta, but they collapsed in the second half. The second-year slump cost Tim Hankinson his job, and assistant Alen Marcina was given the job of coaching the team. The Scorpions experienced another offseason with heavy turnover, adding Trinidadian defender Julius James, an MLS veteran who spent 2013 with the RailHawks, plus Richie Menjivar and Danny Barrera from Atlanta. The signings of former MLS DP Eric Hassli after his release by FC Dallas and Gambian Sainey Touray from USL PRO's Harrisburg City Islanders give San Antonio one of the NASL's top attacks. Pole Tomas Zahorski was the Scorpions' top scorer with nine goals after arriving in mid-season. On the loan front, goalie David Bingham and Sam Garza arrive from the San Jose Earthquakes.
2013 Records: 6-4-2. Coach: 3-10-1. Stadium: Toyota Field (capacity: 8,000).

4. Indy Eleven
Peter Wilt, the former Chicago Fire president, has a new hit in Indianapolis. Indy Eleven is so popular that it had to cap season-ticket sales at 7,000 and it will likely sell out every game at Carroll Stadium. It has even signed a local television deal with MyINDY-TV 23 to carry all home games to homes in Central Indiana. Former Brazilian World Cup champion Kleberson signed a two-year deal with Indy in the NASL's biggest offseason signing. Forward Ben Spencer, 18, is one of the top prospects on the U.S. under-20 national team currently at the Dallas Cup, and was signed on loan from Molde in Norway. Also signed were Honduran international Erick Norales (Honduras) and fellow Catracho Walter Ramirez, who played last season for San Antonio. Brazilian Pedro Mendes arrives from the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Coach: Juergen Sommer. Stadium: Carroll Stadium (capacity: 12,100).

5. Minnesota United FC
Minnesota is another team that has gotten an upgrade as Dr. Bill McGuire purchased the team early last year and has MLS ambitions. United invested heavily in Brazilians this winter, signing defender Tiago Calvano and midfielders Juliano Vicentini and Daniel Mendes, but the bad news concerns returning forward Pablo Campos, who is likely out for the spring season with a knee injury. Without Campos, the team's second leading scorer, Italian Simone Bracalello, and winger Jamie Watson, signed from Orlando City, should lead the attack. Minnesota, which traveled to England for preseason training, returns a pair of all-league picks in defender Aaron Pitchkolan and midfielder Miguel Ibarra
2013 Records: 4-6-2, 6-6-2. Coach: Manny Lagos. Stadium: National Sports Center (capacity: 12,000).

6. Atlanta Silverbacks
The Silverbacks won the spring season -- capturing the title on July 4 -- but they fell to seventh place in the second half of the season and lost to the Cosmos in Soccer Bowl 2013. The slide led to the departure of Coach Brian Haynes, and technical director Eric Wynalda will run the team, commuting from his home in Los Angeles for the team's weekend schedule of games. Goalie Joe Nasco signed with MLS's Colorado Rapids and Mark Bloom is starting with Toronto FC after his move became permanent, and Menjivar, an all-league midfielder, and Barrera, Atlanta's leading scorer, moved to San Antonio, so Wynalda has lots of holes to fill. He brought in Derby Carrillo, who played for him with Cal FC and parlayed his success in its Open Cup run two years ago into a move to Santa Tecla of El Salvador. Deon McCaulay matched Luis Suarez and Robin Van Persie as World Cup qualifying's top scorer with 11 goals for Belize. David Estrada arrives on loan from the Seattle Sounders.
2013 Records: 6-3-3, 4-6-4. Coach: Eric Wynalda. Stadium: Silverbacks Park (capacity: 7,500).

7. Carolina RailHawks
The RailHawks had the best record over the two half-seasons but nothing to show for it as they finished second in both the spring and fall championships. The RailHawks lost Shriver to Tampa Bay and James to San Antonio. Zack Schilawski returns for his third year up front, where he is joined by Aaron King back at Carolina after a five-year absence. The backline will again be marshaled by Kupono Low, while the midfield returns South African Ty Shipalane, Costa Ricans Jake Beckford and Cesar Elizondo and Uruguayan-born Enzo Martinez, formerly with Real Salt Lake.
2013 Records: 5-2-5, 7-5-2. Coach: Colin Clarke. Stadium: WakeMed Soccer Park (capacity: 10,000).

8. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers
Can a pair of Bundesliga veterans, one 39 and the other 36, make the difference at Ft. Lauderdale? The Strikers picked up Macedonian Oka Nikolov, a 39-year-old keeper who played 19 years for Eintracht Frankfurt before joining the Philadelphia Union last summer. Up front, 36-year-old Marius Ebbers was signed after scoring 46 goals in five seasons for St. Pauli, one of seven German clubs he's played for. The Strikers will certainly have an international flavor with Brazilian defender Rafael Alves, former Honduran international Ivan Guerrero, Guyanese midfielder Chris Nurse, picked up from Edmonton, and Cuban Yaikel Perez, who defected in 2005 and has bounced around clubs in the United States and Puerto Rico.
2013 Records: 2-8-2, 5-6-3. Coach: Guenter Kronsteiner. Stadium: Lockhart Stadium (capacity: 20,450)

9. Ottawa Fury
With less fanfare than Indy Eleven, Ottawa has ramped up for its NASL debut. It will move into TD Place Stadium, a 24,000-seat stadium for the fall season that it will share with the CFL's Ottawa RedBlacks and that will serve as one of the venues for the 2015 Women's World Cup. The Fury signed Scotsman Nicki Paterson, who starred for USL PRO's Charleston Battery, and Sinisa Ubiparipovic, who has MLS experience with New York and Montreal. A trio of Brazilians, defender Maykon and forwards Vini Dantas and Oliver Minatel, could play key roles.
Coach: Marc Dos Santos. Stadium: Keith Harris Stadium (capacity: 3,000).

10. FC Edmonton
Former Northern Ireland U-23 Albert Watson earned 2013 all-league honors in captaining FC Edmonton. He is joined on the backline by Trinidadian Kareem Moses and Jamaican Lance Laing. The key will be whether forwards Ritchie Jones and Tomi Ameobi, a pair of offseason signings from England, can produce up front, where Irishman Daryl Fordyce returns after notching a team-high seven goals in 2013.
2013 Records: 3-4-5, 3-4-7. Coach: Colin Miller. Stadium: Clarke Stadium (capacity: 5,000).
1 comment about "Cosmos favored to claim spring title".
  1. Glenn Maddock, April 12, 2014 at 5:36 p.m.

    How does it help the NASL to have split seasons? Why do I care who the 9 game champion is?
    Play one season and have the 2 best play in the Soccer Bowl

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