The NASL season is set to start this weekend, and the 2016 campaign has the potential to be the busiest yet, both on and off the field.
Expansion clubs Rayo OKC, Miami FC and Puerto Rico FC join the fray in 2016, while the recent announcement of the San Francisco Deltas has seen the league land it’s highly-coveted West Coast presence. Traditional powers like the New York Cosmos and Minnesota United remain this season, with both teams poised to make major runs.
The additions of international stars like Georgios Samaras, Juan Arango, Niko Kranjcar and Wilson Palacios headlined a busy offseason, while several youth internationals have also joined the league to start their pro careers.
Elsewhere, the league has secured a number of commercial and broadcast partnerships that have made the NASL more relevant than before.
Here’s a look at some of the key storylines heading into the 2016 NASL season:
COSMOS LOOK TO PUSH INTO NORTH AMERICA’S ELITE
Superstars Raul and Marcos Senna are gone, but the New York Cosmos ambitions remain unchanged.
International veterans Niko Kranjcar and Juan Arango give the club its usual star power, while in-their-prime internationals Yohandry Orozco and Yasmani Duk give the Cosmos attack a facelift. Add in MLS veterans like Michael Lahoud, Jairo Arrieta and Gabriel Farfan and the Cosmos roster is as deep as any in the league.
Since their inception in 2013, the Cosmos have set out to dominate North American soccer, as well as the NASL. That path requires the Cosmos to make a run through the U.S. Open Cup. Is this the year the Comsos make a serious run? While that remains to be seen, but the club’s ambitions are certainly high ahead of another season with lofty expectations.
EXPANSION TEAMS LOOKING TO COMPETE IN YEAR ONE
Both Rayo OKC and Miami FC have plenty of question marks heading into the start of 2016. Those questions have largely been answered as both sides have filled out talented rosters ahead of their inaugural seasons.
Stars like Georgios Samaras and Wilson Palacios have joined Rayo OKC and Miami FC, respectively, as both sides worked the international market to success. With each side adding key veteran pieces, the two expansion clubs will be looking for more success than last season’s debutants, the Jacksonville Armada.
Add in the Fall Season debut of Puerto Rico FC, and the 2016 season has the potential to be a big one for expansion sides.
MINNESOTA UNITED STOCKS UP TALENT
Last season, Minnesota United featured four NASL Best XI members. The club responded by adding two more.
Stefano Pinho and Lance Laing add to an already loaded Loons lineup. With players like Ben Speas, Bernardo Anor and Danny Cruz also joining the squad, Minnesota United may very much be the deepest team in the NASL.
With MLS beckoning, Minnesota United will be undergoing plenty of changes throughout the next several years, but the 2016 season looks like one that will likely provide continued success for one of the NASL’s elite clubs.
NASL LOOKING TO BE DESTINATION FOR YOUNG TALENT
In 2015, Haji Wright’s signing with the New York Cosmos sent shockwaves through the American soccer landscape. In 2016, several other youth internationals have followed Wright’s path in what may be a new trend.
U.S Under-17 Men’s National Team products Alexis Velela and Eric Calvillo have joined the Cosmos, while U.S. U-20 midfielder Luis Felipe will be looking to break into the starting lineup of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Joining them are international prospects like Darwin Espinal and Charles Eloundou, as the NASL has begun to acquire plenty of young talent.
The next step comes in developing that talent, as several teams have introduced various reserve and youth teams to that aim. Given the lack of restrictions holding back the NASL market, the league could emerge as a prime destination for young players looking to make a step up in their careers.
LEAGUE’S CONTINUED GROWTH
The 2016 season has already been a busy one for the NASL, and it’s only April.
Headlines were made throughout the week as the league announced the formal addition of the San Francisco Deltas. On the broadcast front, the NASL has now secured deals with beIN Sports, ESPN3 and CBS Sports, ensuring a whole new audience for the league. In addition, the league has partnered with Under Armour, as the NASL continues to draw in new business partners while showing signs of growth.
With an expansion project in Chicago still in the works, 2016 has the potential to be the league’s biggest step yet. The NASL is still very much a growing league that is still facing a number of difficulties, but big things appear to be on the horizon entering the league’s fifth season.