The NASL 2012 Season Preview: 8 Previews by 8 Team Experts
For the fourth consecutive year IMSoccer News proudly brings you the season preview for second division pro soccer in the US. Eight previews of 8 teams written by 8 separate writers, each who follow D2 pro soccer closely and have excellent knowledge of their individual teams.
This year’s eight 2012 NASL teams are: Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, FC Edmonton, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Minnesota Stars FC, Puerto Rico Islanders and the San Antonio Scorpions.
The eight NASL clubs will each play a 28-game regular season and will face its league opponents four times, twice at home and twice on the road. The season will run from the second weekend of April until late September. The top six teams at the end of the regular season will advance to the playoffs, with the top two finishers receiving a first round playoff bye.
Opening weekend is on Saturday, April 7th with the top billing going to the reigning NASL Champion Minnesota Stars hosting last year’s regular season champion, the Carolina RailHawks, played in Minneapolis at the Metrodome.
Also kicking off on Saturday evening are the San Antonio Scorpions, who will play their inaugural NASL match against the Atlanta Silverbacks who are at home in Silverbacks Park. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers will take on FC Edmonton at Lockhart Stadium and the Puerto Rico Islanders will host the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Bayamon Soccer Complex.
For the complete NASL season schedule go here.
Click ‘read more’ for all 8 team previews —>
Stadium: Atlanta Silverbacks Park: SSS – Artificial Turf (capacity: 5,000)
Last season’s record: 4W-20L-4D (8th place –Did not qualify for playoffs)
Head coach: Alex Pineda Chacón – 1st season (IMS interview with Chacón)
Key players: Tony McManus, Danilo Turcios, Martyn Lancaster
by Patrick Carver
The Silverbacks are trying to rebound from a largely disappointing season on the field in 2011. Look for them to be significantly more competitive this year following a number of positive roster changes and better preparation.
A number of former Silverbacks players have joined the team to provide some much needed experience to what was one of the youngest squads in the NASL. Martyn Lancaster is a veteran defender who will bring a great deal of stability and leadership to the back line. Lancaster and the Brazilian Rilla will anchor the center in the back. They will be relied upon to fix one the NASL’s most porous defenses in 2011.
The picture for outside backs is less clear but will most likely feature young talent Shane Moroney and Kohei Matsushita.
The flat back four in a 4-3-3 will sit behind a mix of young and experienced talent. Tony McManus is a vacuum in the center and covers lots of ground. This will free up the more attack-minded players like Honduran international Danilo Turcios along with young talents Lucas Paulini and Ciaran O’Brien to focus on scoring goals.
Their attack should be more productive with the addition of a couple of key signings and retentions. They return big target man and rookie scoring champ Matt Horth and a pair of quality wingers in Raphael Cox and Nico Colaluca.
Newcomers Reinaldo Navia and Stephen Ademolu will be relied upon to spark what was a largely non-existent attack in 2011. The new guys come with loads of professional experience, are proven goal scorers and should have an immediate impact.
For the Silverbacks to be successful, they need to forget about 2011 and fix a couple of key weaknesses.
The defense lacked continuity last year and they were missing an experienced leader. The team looks to have repaired this by adding some experienced professionals with the ability to organizing defensively. They are considerably less likely to give up soft and late goals, which doomed them last season. If they can cut down on the number of careless goals, they’ll be tough in every game.
The midfield should be better but it will be interesting to see the impact of Danilo Turcios. Highly touted out of Honduras, he could become the quarterback of the offense. Having that level of experience and proven playmaking ability will be a tremendous help to a team that lacked direction and creativity last year.
The organization only had a couple of months to prepare for the 2011 season but made the most of it. They had great fans but less than stellar results. They are much more prepared this time around, and that should translate to more wins in their 2012 campaign.
Stadium: WakeMed Soccer Park: SSS – Grass (capacity: 7,000)
Last season’s record: 17W-8L-3D (1st Place Regular Season – Lost in semifinal playoffs to Minnesota)
Head coach: Colin Clarke – 1st season (IMS interview with Clarke)
Key players: Kupono Low, Gale Agbossoumonde, Nick Zimmerman, Brian Shiver
by Tim Candon
No team has been better than the Carolina RailHawks during the last three regular seasons, which featured a championship in 2011, a conference championship in 2010 and a runner-up finish in 2009.
For all their regular-season success, the RailHawks have nothing to show for it in the postseason: a quarterfinal exit in 2009, a championship final defeat in 2010 and a penalty-kick loss to Minnesota in the 2011 semifinals.
If the RailHawks are to put it all together in 2012, it will be with a decidedly different cast of characters.
Martin Rennie concluded his three-year spell at WakeMed Soccer Park last October and took control of Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps. Rennie took with him to Vancouver four vital players from last year’s squad (NASL MVP Etienne Barbara, midfielders Floyd Franks and Matt Watson and goalkeeper Brad Knighton). Midfielder Jonny Steele (1,925 minutes, 8 assists) caught on with Real Salt Lake, and Pablo Campos joined the expansion San Antonio Scorpions.
All told, the RailHawks lost 84 percent of their goals and 74 percent of their minutes played from 2011.
Significant changes, indeed. But the RailHawks no doubt expect to contend for trophies again in 2012.
Colin Clarke assumes the reins of the club after a remarkable four-year run with the Puerto Rico Islanders, which included a Commissioner’s Cup-winning season in 2008, a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals in 2009 and a league championship in 2010.
A change at the head of the bench has brought along a number of changes in playing personnel, too. Only six players from 2011 are back: defenders Kupono Low and John Krause, midfielders Cory Elenio and Chris Nurse, forward Nick Zimmerman and goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald. Low, Krause, Nurse and Zimmerman saw significant time in 2011.
Low has been a rock at left back for the last three seasons, and he’s been with the RailHawks since their inception in 2007. Krause was an integral part of the Islanders’ success before joining the RailHawks last year. Gale Agbossoumonde is the key addition in the back. After toiling in Europe the last two seasons, the promising U.S. youth international will play out the final year of his contract with Traffic Sports USA with the RailHawks.
Ray Burse figures to be the first-choice goalkeeper, having played for Clarke’s Islanders in 2011, as well as signing on with him at FC Dallas in 2006.
The biggest question mark heading into the season is the state of the RailHawks’ attack. Zimmerman represents the only impactful holdover from last season’s offense that scored a league-best 50 goals, five of which belonged to Zimmerman.
Jason Garey comes to Carolina after five seasons in MLS, with Columbus (2006-10) and Houston (2011) surely looking to re-discover the form that saw him selected third overall in the 2006 SuperDraft after his Hermann Trophy-winning senior year at Maryland in 2005. Brian Shriver and Brian Ackley have also shown well in the preseason. While this is their first season with the senior squad, they’re no strangers to the organization. Both saw time with the RailHawks U-23s during their collegiate years.
Several former RailHawks have also returned to WakeMed for a second stint with the club. Nic Platter is back as a goalkeeper and goalkeeper coach. Defender Greg Shields has recovered from the handful of injuries that kept him out in 2011, and he’ll be a player coach. Amir Lowery, a midfield stalwart for the RailHawks in 2009-10, returns after a one-year tour with Montreal in 2011, and midfielder Ty Shipalane returns after spending 2011 in his native South Africa.
With a new coach and almost a completely new roster, projecting the RailHawks 2012 outlook based on 2011 is a fool’s errand. Instead, it’s wise to look at Clarke’s time at Puerto Rico as a more accurate gauge. In three of four seasons, Clarke won at least 15 games and finished in the top 3 in each of those years. The one “off-year” the Islanders had, in 2010, was one just about any team would take. The Islanders went a modest 9-11-10 in the regular season, eked into the playoffs as the No.8 seed and went on to claim the league championship.
While an awful lot has changed at WakeMed Soccer Park, the results likely will not.
Stadium: Clarke Field: Multi-use – artificial turf (capacity: 800-temporary seating for 3,800)
Last season’s record: 10W-12L-6D (5th Place – lost in first round of playoffs)
Head coach: Harry Sinkgraven – 2nd year (IMS Interview with Sinkgraven)
Key players: Shaun Saiko, Paul Hamilton, Serisay Barthelemy, Yashir Pinto
by STEVEN SANDOR – the11.ca
When FC Edmonton lost its NASL opening-round playoff match 5-0 to Fort Lauderdale, the reaction was swift. Eleven players were culled.
It wasn’t the reaction you’d expect from an expansion team. Usually, expansion sides would be satisfied to be anywhere close to .500. But FCE’s approach was different; there was dissatisfaction and, yes, even disgust at flaming out in the Eddies’ first playoff match.
The left-back position has been rebuilt. Former Strikers player Adam West, ex-Impact Kevin Hatchi and Canadian Fabrice Lassonde will look to bolster the spot.
Last year, the Eddies’ featured the enigmatic and problematic Rein Baart in goal — and gave up more goals than anyone in NASL outside of Atlanta. This season, former MLS keepers David Monsalve and Lance Parker — both on the injury list to start the season – will compete for time with Canadian national U-23 keeper Michal Misiewicz, who was Canada’s best player at the Olympic qualifying tournament. FCE went from having the worst goalkeeping in NASL to arguably being the deepest at the position in the league.
Unlike their NASL rivals, the Eddies lost none of its top players to MLS. The domos in MLS have deemed that they do not want to pay transfer fees for NASL players, and Edmonton made sure to have its key players under contract. So NASL Best XI member Shaun Saiko and Paul Hamilton, one of the best centre backs in the league, return. And, Matt Lam, who was on loan to Japanese side JEF United in 2011, returns to bolster an already impressive attack.
That attack is made all the more fearsome with the additions of Yashir Pinto and Serisay Barthelemy. French striker Barthelemy was regarded as the top talent at the NASL Combine. Many clubs wanted to sign him, but FCE put together the winning bid. The former SC Bastia man has been scoring at will in preseason.
Meanwhile, you could argue that Pinto is NASL’s own kind of Designated Player. Immigration issues will likely mean he will only be able to play games on Canadian soil early in the season; but he was a starter on the Chilean U-20 side and comes to FCE on loan from Colo-Colo. FCE has sell-through rights, so the NASL team would profit from a sale as well.
While so many other NASL teams seem to be regressing, this team has improved everywhere. And, getting away from the tiny pitch at Foote Field allows the Eddies to play 4-3-3 at home and on the road. The field at Foote was so small it was impossible for the team to play a formation that spread the players. At Clarke Stadium, which the team is renovating to have ready in time for the home opener, the pitch will be nice 76 yards wide.
And, the team stayed together all winter to work out, so will likely come out of the gate strong, as it did in 2011.
Hard to see this team finishing outside of the top two, simply based on what other clubs have lost — and what FCE has gained.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Stadium: Lockhart Stadium: Multi-use – Grass (capacity: 18,500)
Last season’s record: 9W-8L-11D (5th Place – lost in Championship series to Stars)
Head coach: Daryl Shore (3rd Year-Took over midseason 2010) (IMS Interview with Shore)
Key players: Abe Thompson, Matt Glaeser, Andy Herron
by Joel Delgado – Cup of Joel
It’s normal for teams to undergo a number of changes during an offseason. It’s a given. But what the Fort Lauderdale Strikers essentially went through over the past few months wasn’t just a series of changes. It was a complete makeover.
Last season, the Strikers made an improbable late season run that propelled them all the way to the NASL Championship Series before falling to the NSC Minnesota Stars. But make no mistake: This year’s edition of the team is not the same team that donned the red and yellow at Lockhart Stadium last fall.
Leading goal scorer Brian Shriver? Gone. Defensive stalwarts Martyn Lancaster and Aaron Hohlbein? They’ll be playing elsewhere, too. Midfielders Eduardo Coudet and Martin Nunez? They’re out as well.
The Strikers did retain the services of several key players from that squad. Veteran forward Abe Thompson, who scored seven goals in 2011, returns as a player and assistant coach. Defenders Toni Stahl and Lance Laing will resume their positions on the backline and carry more of a leadership role for the Strikers.
Perhaps most importantly, Fort Lauderdale will maintain continuity in net with starting goalkeeper Matt Glaeser and his impressive 1.03 goals against average returning.
Strikers coach Daryl Shore will be leaning on them to help lead a new batch of very young players that will look to fill the gaps left by the team’s many departures. The average age of the 2012 Strikers is around 23 years of age with a number of recent players joining the squad straight out of college and with little pro experience.
“It’s important to have a good core group of guys back,” Shore said. “Bringing in some veteran guys who have been in tough games and mixing them in with our young guys who we think have a lot of talent… hopefully that leads to a good group.”
Shore believes that this Strikers team will be more aggressive offensively with the players currently on the roster, which will be a contrast to the defense-heavy approach of 2011.
The signing of Costa Rica national team member and Chicago Fire forward Andy Herron could also make up for the loss of some of the squad’s losses. Herron, 34, is the oldest player on the current roster, but Shore is hopeful his impressive preseason play is a prelude to the kind of success he will have this season. “We are expecting goals from Andy, that’s for sure,” Shore said.
But still, there are many more question marks concerning this team with the season right around the corner. Can this team build on the momentum of last season? Will the team chemistry be there? How will these young players respond to playing at the professional level? “The biggest challenging was putting the group back together,” Shore said. “We just need to work on our communication and getting our soccer right.”
MINNESOTA STARS FC – 2011 NASL Champions
Stadium: National Sports Center Stadium: SSS – Grass (capacity: 12,000)
Last season’s record: 9W-10L-D9 (6th Place – NASL Champions)
Head coach: Manny Lagos (3rd year) (IMS interview with Lagos)
Key players: Kyle Altman, Kevin Friedland, Neil Hlavaty
by Brian Quarstad – IMSoccer News
In 2010, Stars head coach Manny Lagos took a group of players, most whom had never played together, and assembled a team that by season’s end were one of the most successful in the league. Lagos brought back 16 of those players in 2011. Even though the squad lacked the star power of some rosters, he again formed his team into one of the most cohesive units in the new NASL. The team lingered in the top third of the table most of the season, finishing 6th after a late season slump but then surged again to win the 2011 NASL Championship, knocking off the league’s best in post-season play.
In the offseason the Stars received a new name [Minnesota Stars FC] and logo. But there is not much else new about this league-owned team. They have struggled to find signings with a tight budget and a number of players have decided to retire after holding the championship trophy. Gone are veteran goalkeeper [Papa] Joe Warren, as well as 3 other players, Brian Cvilikas, Jeff Cosgriff and Andrei Gotsmanov, all who contributed to the team’s late season run. Late signing Luke Mulholland, also an important ’11 contributor, signed with the Rowdies.
Still, the team has returned 15 of last season’s players and could again be the most cohesive unit in the league with many returning for their 3rd year together under Lagos. In the yearly churn of division 2 rosters, consistency is important. But Lagos said in the offseason the team must improve if they are to repeat. So far the only changes made is a trade of defender Jack Stewart to the Strikers for Martin Nunez, adding much needed speed, and the signings of Edi Buro, a Bosnia and Herzegovina native, and midfielder Miguel Ibarra, a Portland Timbers supplemental draft pick that didn’t stick with the MLS side.
At 6′ 4″ tall, goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel is physically able to fill the shoes of Warren. The bigger question will be: can the ‘keeper who has been with the team a few years, but only made a handful of starts, be able to step up to the task of becoming a number one, showing the emotional and tactical maturity of his predecessor? Currently the Stars do not even have a backup, trialing a number of players in preseason.
Returning to the squad are captain central defender Kyle Altman who trialed well with the MLS side Earthquakes only to go down with a hamstring injury. After returning to the Stars he pulled it again in training. The team needs Altman and player/assistant coach Kevin Friedland to stay injury-free to lead the back four. Second year defender Justin Davis must have another solid year, as well as Minnesota native Brian Kallman who finally seemed to come into his own in the ’11 season.
Daniel Wasson is back after a year with a torn ACL and his contribution will be critical, as well as that from 28-year-old Japanese player Kentaro Takada. Midfielder Neil Hlavaty will be needed to step up again as he led the team in goals scored along with Italian forward Simone Bracalello who is also back for a 3rd season. Clever play by outside midfielder Lucas Rodriguez will also be important just as he did when finishing up the season strong.
Up top the combination of Devin Del Do with Bracalello will need to be better than last season and 6’ 2″ 2nd year player Amani Walker will need to step his game up as the big man up top.
Currently the team only has 17 players signed to contracts. This will certainly have to change if the Stars are to have the depth to last the long and physical NASL season. But Lagos recently said he would not sign players just to sign them. It seems the NASL champion coach is holding his cards close to his chest in hopes of still landing some late additions to the team that could be contributors.
Stadium: Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium: SSS – Grass (capacity: 12,500)
Temporary stadium: Bayamón Soccer Complex
Last season’s record: 15W-6L-7D (2nd place- lost in semifinals to Strikers)
Head coach: Adrian Whitbread (1st season – former ast. coach) (IMS Interview w/Whitbread)
Key players: Nicholas Addlery, Jonathan Fana, David Foley
Team Website: English – Spanish
by Jay Long – IMSoccer News
2011 was a disappointing year by Puerto Rico Islanders FC standards. Although the club managed to successfully defend its CFU (Caribbean Football Union) Club crown and finish second in the NASL regular season, it failed to successfully defend its second division crown. The Bayamon-based side was defeated by Ft. Lauderdale in the semi-final round.
The club also failed to make it out of the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League, narrowly eliminated by Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) on away-goal differential.
The knowledge that in retrospect the squad hadn’t really performed that poorly (given the demands of overlapping competitions and the loss of several internationals to World Cup Qualification national duty), was of little consolation to the franchise and the supporters.
The 2012 season finds “La Tropa Naranja” (the Orange Troop) in transition: Colin Clarke, the man referred to as the “General” has left the club, heading north to take the helm of the Islanders’ fiercest NASL rival, the Carolina RailHawks. Stepping to the forefront, the “Brigadier,” Adrian Whitbread.
The Englishman had served at Clarke’s side with both Islanders and the Puerto Rican National Team; at times when scheduling conflicts arose between the two squads, Whitbread was charged with leading one of the sides into battle, whilst Clarke was away tending to the other.
Whitbread quickly appointed Jack Stefanowski to be his top aide. Stefanowski had also worked as an assistant with both Islanders and the national team.
Given the departure of Clarke, surprisingly, the nucleus of the club remains relatively unchanged. To date, only one member from last year’s squad, starting goalkeeper Ray Burse, has been confirmed to have followed Clarke to Carolina.
Returning players include the dangerous strike force of Nicholas Addlery, Jonathan Fana and David Foley.
Both goalkeepers Richard Martin and Cody Laurendi, have appeared in very limited action for the club. Whether either of them is ready to take the reins of the starting position remains to be seen. If not, Whitbread will be faced with the task of finding another ‘keeper to anchor the defense.
In addition to adjusting to a new headman and starting goalkeeper, it is anticipated that the club will be forced to play almost half of its home fixtures at the Bayamon Soccer Complex. With a massive renovation project underway at it’s regular home venue, Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel, La Tropa will be forced to battle opposing squads in the much more intimate confines of the nearby and familiar facility. For several years now, the club has used the complex for training purposes and was also forced to play two USSF D2 matches there in July 2010 when “La Islandera” was unavailable as the result of severe water inundation.
All eyes are on now squarely on the Brigadier to lead la Tropa Naranja to glory. In Puerto Rico, where patience is the scarcest of commodities and expectations for the club are always high, if the club starts too slowly, Whitbread may quickly find a supporter-led mutiny on his hands.
San Antonio Scorpions
Stadium: Heroes Stadium: Multi-use – Turf (capacity: 11,122)
Last season’s record: Expansion Team
Head coach: Tim Hankinson (1st season) (IMS Interview with Hankinson)
Key players: Kevin Harmse, Javier Saavedra, Pablo Campos
by Andrew Arellano – The Bexar Co. Foot
The SA Scorpions FC look to start their inaugural campaign with a full head of steam after a year of many firsts for the young franchise. After playing in their first competitive match ever against the US U-23 Olympic team, they took on Mexican second division side Dorados de Sinaloa featuring Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
Under coach Hankinson’s commitment to building fitness and trust among the players, the squad strung together some hard-fought defensive performances with a fundamentally sound 4-4-2 system. Hankinson, former Tampa Bay Mutiny head coach, has a commitment to building the spine of his team through the center of the park in what will most likely be a tight diamond. This squad is capable of withstanding waves of attacks through prolonged periods during a match, but will be tested with a long NASL season and may go wanting for goals if they focus on a more defensive style of play.
While the Scorpions are new to the NASL, they have managed to lock-in several key signings to help strengthen the squad providing a backbone of MLS and international experience.
MLS cup champion and 2nd leading scorer in the NASL last season, Pablo Campos, will look to provide the bulk of offensive spark for the new boys and has already bagged a couple during the pre-season. Campos will look to continue his form in the 2012 season.
Mexican international, Javier Saavedra, was signed in a player/coach role and looks to provide some stability in the midfield. Saavedra, 38, renowned for his defensive play, will compete on the field as well as perform coaching duties for the reserve side, shepherding future talent for the club.
Team captain Kevin Harmse was the first player signed by the Scorpions franchise and brings a wealth of experience to the squad. The former Canadian international featured professionally for a couple of European sides and several MLS squads including the 2007 Los Angeles Galaxy. His most recent club was the Vancouver Whitecaps (2011).
The club continues to build for the upcoming season, signing several players in past weeks including two former Vancouver Whitecaps, Blake Wagner and Wes Knight and the club’s newest signing, Esteban Bayona. Bayona is a former University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, TX) standout and featured most recently for the Laredo Heat of the USL PDL.
The SA Scorpions FC hope to continue their solid preseason form with their first-ever NASL match against Atlanta Silverbacks.
TAMPA BAY ROWDIES
Founded 2010 (Modern Era)
Stadium: Al Lang Stadium: Multi-use – Grass (capacity: 7,227)
Last season’s record: 11W–9L–8D (3rd Place – lost in quarterfinals to Stars)
Head coach: Ricky Hill (2nd Year) (IMS interview with Hill)
Key players: Takuya Yamada, Andres Arango, Jeff Attinella
By Steve Holler – World Soccer Reader
A rollercoaster year on and off the field gave fans of FC Tampa Bay an exciting and tumultuous season with much to look forward to.
The team bounced back from a dismal inaugural season and finished second in the league in scoring behind Mike Ambersley (11 goals, 7 assists) and Aaron King (9 goals, 5 assists), with a young midfield controlling the ball consistently and effectively.
The back line, lead by captain Frankie Sanfilippo and rookie goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, improved drastically from 2010, but still finished 3rd-worst in the league in goals allowed.
Attinella stepped in admirably when goalkeeper Daryl Sattler went down in the fourth game with a season-ending injury. The young ‘keeper surprised many by being one of the best in the league.
This season, what was FC Tampa Bay is now officially the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the name they had been trying to secure since their rebirth. And with the addition of Luke Mulholland, USL Pro’s Rookie of the Year last year, and long-time Bristol Rovers captain Stuart Campbell as player/assistant coach, the team looks to replace the losses of key midfielders Mozzi Gyorio and Pascal Millien.
With what began last year as a back four that was completely comprised of new players, it will be necessary to keep the defense solid while relying on Mulholland to provide service to Ambersley to keep the offensive machine churning forward in Ricky Hill’s forward-oriented formation.
If Sanfilippo can keep the formation compact while the offense regains the goal-scoring spark of a year ago, the Rowdies could see action well into October this year.