NASL Preview: Minnesota United is favored

Minnesota United FC gets the nod over the defending champion New York Cosmos in our preseason rankings of the NASL's 11 teams, who kick off the spring championship this weekend. Rayo OKC and Miami FC have replaced the Atlanta Silverbacks and San Antonio Scorpions. Puerto Rico FC will begin play in the second half of the season.

1. Minnesota United FC.
2015: Spring: 4th place; Fall: 2nd; Combined: 3rd.
In what could be their last season in the NASL before moving to MLS, the Loons have upgraded their roster with the addition of 2015 NASL MVP Stefano Pinho from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Jamaican international Lance Laing from FC Edmonton. They join Christian Ramirez to give Minnesota an attack that combined for 36 goals in 2015. In addition to Pinho, Laing and Ramirez, Justin Davis, Kevin Venegas and Ibson give Minnesota six players from the 2015 NASL Best XI. Another key addition is Seattle Sounders loanee Damion Lowe.

2. New York Cosmos.
2015: Spring: 1st place; Fall: 3rd; Combined: 1st.
The Cosmos won their second NASL title in three seasons, sending off former Spanish national team stars Raul and Marcos Senna into retirement. Walter Restrepo, who joined MLS's Philadelphia Union, and Soccer Bowl hat trick hero Gaston Cellerino, who moved to Bolivia, are the only other starters from the 2015 championship team who didn't return. Keeper Jimmy Maurer, two-time NASL Best XI pick Carlos Mendes, Hunter Freeman and Danny Szetela give Coach Giovani Savarese a solid nucleus of returning players. The big offseason signings were Venezuelan star Juan Arango and Croatia great Niko Kranjcar.

3. Tampa Rowdies.
2015: Spring: 2th place; Fall: 8th; Combined: 5th.
The Rowdies finished second in the spring championship but struggled early in the fall half, prompting owner Bill Edwards to fire head coach Thomas Rongen and general manager Farrukh Quraishi after eight games. Stuart Campbell replaced Rongen but couldn't prevent the Rowdies from dropping out of playoff contention. Freddy Adu returns for a second year, while the Rowdies have brought in a bunch of MLS veterans: Eric Avila, Michael Nanchoff, Jeremy Hall and Danny Mwanga.

4. Rayo OKC.
First Season.
The first-year club, started by Spanish club Rayo Vallecano, hired former San Antonio Scorpions head coach Alen Marcina, who will have lots to work with. Rayo signed Greek star Georgios Samaras, who played at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Robbie Findley, who started for the USA at the 2010 World Cup, and Jamaican Ryan Johnson to lead the attack. Rayo also signed Michel, a set-piece specialist with FC Dallas, and Ghanaian midfielder Derek Boateng.

5. Carolina RailHawks
2015: Spring: 3rd place; Fall: 7th; Combined: 6th.
The RailHawks have a new owner as Traffic sold them to Steve Malik as part of its sale of properties. Colin Clarke returns as coach and bolstered the defense with the acquisition of Simon Mensing and Paul Black from the defunct Atlanta Silverbacks, Drew Beckie from Ottawa and Karem Moses from FC Edmonton. Top scorer Nacho Novo has departed, but Tiyi Shipalane (7 goals) and Nazmi Albadawi (6 goals) return to lead the attack that welcomes back Brian Schriver after two seasons at Tampa Bay.

6. Ottawa Fury FC.
2015: Spring: 9th place; Fall: 1st; Combined: 2nd.
The Fury lost head coach Marc Dos Santos, who joined the Swope Park Rangers as head coach, and seven starters from the team that won the 2015 fall championship and fell to the Cosmos in the Soccer Bowl. Romuald Peiser, NASL's top keeper, Best XI defender Rafael Alves and Canadian internationals Julian de Guzman and Marcel de Jong, picked up after spending last season with Sporting Kansas City, give new coach Paul Dalglish a quartet of veterans around which to rebuild the Fury.

7. Indy Eleven
2015: Spring: 5th place; Fall: 9th; Combined: 9th.
Veteran coach Tim Hankinson returns to the NASL to take charge of Indy Eleven, which struggled on the field in its first two seasons. Indy raided 2015 runner-up Ottawa, signing Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Colin Falvey, and added veteran MLS keeper Jon Busch. New up front is the trio of Syrian Eamon Zayed, Jamaican Dino Williams and Justin Braun.

8. Fort Lauderdale Strikers
2015: Spring: 8th place; Fall: 4th; Combined: 4th.
After replacing him following their run to Soccer Bowl 2014, where they lost to San Antonio, the Strikers brought Gunter Kronsteiner back in the middle of the 2015 season and he led them back to the playoffs. What did they do? Replace him again, this time with general manager Caio Zanardi. Another roster overhaul has left young Brazilian PC as one of the few returnees of note. There will again be a heavy Brazilian influence, though, as former World Cup champion Kleberson arrives from Indy Eleven and and Maicon Santos from Tampa Bay.

9. FC Edmonton
2015: Spring: 10th place; Fall: 5th; Combined: 7th.
The loss of Laing to Minnesota hurts the Eddies, though they return Daryl Fordyce and Tomi Ameobi, who combined for 15 goals in 2015. Veteran Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood arrives from German club Energie Cottbus and will help solidify Colin Miller's midfield. Watch out for academy products Allan Zebie, Marko Aleksic and Shamit Shome to take on bigger roles.

10. Jacksonville Armada
2015: Spring: 6th place; Fall: 11th; Combined: 11th.
The second-year Armada made massive changes on and off the field as owner Mark Frisch took over management of the front office, former U.S. World Cup keeper Tony Meola was installed as head coach and the roster was overhauled. The key moves were the acquisition of 2015 USL Defender of the Year Bryan Burke, and scoring champion Matt Fondy (22 goals) from Louisville City FC. Irish midfielder Richie Ryan was signed from Ottawa, where he was an NASL Best XI pick in 2015.

11. Miami FC
First Season.
Paulo Maldini is part of the ownership group, while former Italy and AC Milan teammate Alessandro Nesta is the head coach of the first-year club that will play at FIU Stadium. Miami has imported Brazilian Matuzalem, 35, and Argentine Dario Cvitanich and Honduran Wilson Palacios, both 31, but the core of the team will come from players picked up from other NASL clubs. They signed Pablo Campos from Minnesota, where he became the first NASL player to score 50 career goals.

Note: Puerto Rico FC begins play in Fall Championship.
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