The NASL can finally exhale after a tumultuous offseason with the first set of matches finally arriving over the weekend.
There were points during the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 where the future of the NASL was very much up in the air. With several teams departing, several more on the brink of collapse, and only one set to join, this NASL season was far from a sure thing. But after months of negotiations with US Soccer and a last-gasp save from new New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso, the league survived and now prepares to enter a new year with a new look.
With eight teams in play this season, the opening weekend kicks off with three matches featuring five returning teams and the debut of the brand new San Francisco Deltas. The Deltas open their inaugural campaign on Saturday night, with the match streaming on Twitter, as they take on one of the stronger teams in the league, the Indy Eleven.
Elsewhere, the defending champion New York Cosmos travel abroad to face Puerto Rico FC on beIN Sports to kick off their first campaign under new ownership. Rounding out the weekend slate are the newly re-branded North Carolina FC as they welcome Miami FC on ESPN3.
Here’s a full look at the NASL schedule in week one:
NORTH CAROLINA FC VS. MIAMI FC (SATURDAY 7:30 P.M., ESPN3)
Despite making their MLS ambitions well-known with a confirmed bid, the newly branded North Carolina FC opens the season in the NASL and against tough opposition in Miami FC.
With a sleek new crest and jerseys, North Carolina FC will look nice on the field, but their performance is yet to be determined. In their final season as the Carolina RailHawks, the club finished seventh in both the Spring and Fall tables, but eighth in the Combined standings, leaving them outside the playoffs looking in. They’ll hope to start strong in 2017 and impress those potentially watching from MLS headquarters in New York.
Miami FC underwent a startling transformation in the second half of 2016. After finishing dead last in the Spring, with just seven points after 10 matches, Miami bounced back in the fall to finish fifth and earn 33 points from 22 matches, leaving them outside the playoffs overall but with hope moving forward. The team returns a good deal of its 2016 roster, and hopes to make the next leap into the playoffs this year.
PUERTO RICO FC VS. NEW YORK COSMOS (SATURDAY 7:30 P.M., BEIN SPORTS)
Puerto Rico FC enter year two of their existence and their first Spring season with a difficult, but much-changed opponent in the defending champion New York Cosmos.
Puerto Rico FC performed decently well in their first Fall season, earning 24 points through 22 matches despite a league-worst goal differential for a ninth-place finish. After an offseason of turmoil, PRFC returns as one of the eight remaining teams this year and will hope to make a run at a playoff spot over the length of a combined season.
No team underwent more strain during the offseason than the New York Cosmos. Fresh off their title victory, the team’s future was up in the air as the Cosmos’ collapse seemed imminent. Then, at the last moment, new owner Rocco Commisso swooped in and purchased the team, keeping them alive for another year. After retrieving some of their lost players, and adding a few new faces, along with a move to Coney Island’s MCU Park, the Cosmos will hope to show they’re still top dog in the NASL.
SAN FRANCISCO DELTAS VS. INDY ELEVEN (10 P.M., TWITTER)
It’s an inaugural celebration as the San Francisco Deltas play their first ever match against a difficult opponent in last year’s runner-up, the Indy Eleven.
The Deltas were perhaps one of the saving graces of the NASL over the rough winter, as their presence helped the league partially overcome some of their losses and gave reason for the league to stay afloat. Now they’ll look to show their worth, as they open their season on Twitter with a roster featuring several former MLS players with high expectations.
Indy Eleven, meanwhile, is one of two team’s with a current bid in for MLS expansion. While making no secret of their desires, the Eleven are certainly still trying to repeat the success of 2016 and potentially exceed it by winning the final after a heartbreaking loss by penalties in last year’s Championship match. With a slightly weakened Cosmos potentially vulnerable, the Eleven could make a statement against the league’s newest team.