Photo Credit: Rayo OKC

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NASL Power Rankings 2016: Week One

by on 4 April 2016

Basically nothing was learned in week one of the NASL, as three of the five matches were fought to tepid draws that seemed to indicate, above all, that no team was well prepared for the start of the campaign.

Oh, and there were some terrible tackles.

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Can I say it? They are what we thought they were!

450 minutes of NASL action are in the book, and it was a dull, grueling, occasionally painful period of time. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. It was, after all, the first week of play. In addition, the match-ups were all unusually even-matched. Pulling from the preseason rankings, week one featured the #3 edging the #2 at home, the #4 being held to a draw at home by the #6, the #8 drawing at home against the #7, and the #11 team drawing at home against the #10. In other words, the speculative preseason rankings held up remarkably well. They are what we thought they were!

As a result, this week’s rankings hew closely to the original, with just a few tweaks. But hey, come for the numbers, stay for the snark.

 

PRCosmos
#1. New York Cosmos – (1-0-0, 3 pts) – No Change

Hey, the Cosmos look dominant, who would’ve guessed?

The defending champs looked every bit the part on Sunday as they made short work of a very different Ottawa Fury side than the one that contested the final. Even with some surprises in the starting XI, including Niko Kranj?ar, Yasmani Duk, and David Ochieng on the bench, the Cosmos had no problem strolling to victory. Juan Arango, who apparently has more juice in his legs than I thought, was the star, netting a brace. Adam Moffat opportunistically took the third goal.

The Cosmos were not without some worries, especially in the back where Jimmy Ockford did not always look up to the job. But goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer was strong when called upon. After weathering the first twenty to thirty minutes in which the Fury were lively and positive, the Cosmos turned on the gas and never looked back.

There’s not much more to say than that. The Cosmos are deep and good. Their opponents were not. Next week, the Armada sail into town. Last year, match-ups between New York and Jacksonville were really excellent and hard-fought. This year, I suspect the Cosmos will have an advantage playing a team with a first week bye. Regardless, the green and white looked excellent on Sunday, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue.

PRRailHawks
#2. Carolina RailHawks – (1-0-0, 3 pts) – Up One

The RailHawks started the season organized and direct, and that’s exactly the kind of approach that gets you three points on week one. Against a Minnesota team with plenty of hype behind it, it was the hosts who started out sharper and more focused. Even after going down 0-1 to a ridiculous Christian Ramirez strike, the RailHawks remained disciplined and largely bossed the game for the first half an hour. In the process, they found two goals of their own. Despite increasing Minnesota pressure, Carolina made the lead stand up for the remainder of the match.

This is a match where the lead story is probably the points that Carolina picked up, and less what it says about either of these teams. Both sides looked broadly like they knew what they were doing, which is more than you could say for some of the other teams in the league. But in taking the full three points from a team that figures to be one of their primary rivals, the RailHawks have given themselves an early advantage in the race for the spring championship. To win the spring would be a sensational result for Carolina, because they do not have a substantial amount of depth.

In fact, they will be tested early in that department, because if there was anything to worry about from a Carolina perspective in week one, it had to be the head injury sustained by Kareem Moses (get well soon, Kareem) and the straight red card earned by Simon Mensing. Losing two starting-quality defenders immediately will stretch Colin Clarke’s resources thin next week in Oklahoma City.

PRUnited
#3. Minnesota United FC – (0-0-1, 0 pts) – Down One

#PANIC?

There’s no doubt that Saturday’s opener against the RailHawks was not the start to the season that the Loons were looking for, but after watching the other games across the NASL, fans in Minnesota ought to feel better about their team’s effort. United were second best against Carolina, and deserved the result, but they played strong soccer for stretches, especially in the second half.

Of course, the Loons could not achieve a breakthrough against a defensive-minded Carolina team who focused on packing the midfield, they nearly conceded a third goal but for a clearance off the line, and their one goal came in a fashion that will not be easily repeated. There is clearly room for improvement, above all in connecting the forwards to the midfield. The absence of Ibson in particular, was keenly felt. The defense also remains a worry. Damion Lowe was unfocused at times, although he greatly improved as the game went on. Tiago Calvano’s speed and reactions are an increasing concern, though he did somehow beat Ty Shipalane in a footrace in the second half. Brent Kallman is waiting in the wings, and may see action sooner rather than later.

Minnesota travel to Edmonton next week, to face another defensive team in a difficult place to play. But they shouldn’t feel unduly pressured. There’s more work to be done, but the right pieces are in place.

PRRowdies
#4. Tampa Bay Rowdies – (0-1-0, 1 pt) – No Change

Tampa kicked off their season with a 0-0 draw at home against Indy. The Rowdies were the better team throughout, which was to be expected, but they couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities, which was also probably to be expected. A lack of consistent, ruthless finishers is going to dog this team all year, and Saturday night offered a good preview of how it will look.

The positive news is that Tampa Bay kept a clean sheet with relative ease, and showed good early chemistry in the midfield. Concerns about head coach Stuart Campbell’s lack of experience should be allayed by his team’s general preparedness. They were organized and they got in good positions to score. That’s what Rowdies fans will want to see.

Next week, the green and gold travel southeast to take on the expansion team Miami FC in that club’s first ever home match. Given the opening week displays, the Rowdies should be favored to ruin the party.

PRArmada
#5. Jacksonville Armada – (0-0-0, 0 pts) – No Change

Jacksonville had a bye in week one, which may or may not be a good thing. But their opening week will feature a stiff challenge, away at New York. I’m bullish on the Armada this year, in large part because of the depth and potency of their attack, but to have to find your feet against the Cosmos seems a tough ask.

PREleven
#6. Indy Eleven – (0-1-0, 1 pt) – No Change

Indy can feel happy with the result they achieved on Saturday night. An away draw against an ambitious club like Tampa is a solid start to the season for the Eleven. But as must seem obvious by now, there are two ways to view the opening week matches: through the lens of results, and through the lens of the quality of play. Indy got their away point, but they played soccer that was at times difficult to watch. For the Brickyard Battalion and co. that might sound totally fine, after suffering through two years of insipid and losing soccer. But the quality of Indy’s play didn’t offer many arguments for a boost in the team’s ranking in these pages.

The decision to play Jon Busch in goal was an interesting one. Busch is a war horse and a good goalkeeper at his peak, but he will turn 40 soon. Back-up Keith Cardona was respectable last season, and it’s hard to see what Indy gains by leaving him on the bench and giving starts to a veteran who began his senior career when Cardona was 4 years old. In the same vein, Dylan Mares, who was the team’s best young player last year, was left on the bench all game. Tim Hankinson has a reputation for getting his teams off the ground quickly, which is what he did in San Antonio. But while the Eleven certainly need to win some games, they shouldn’t abandon what youth development they have. Of the Eleven’s starters and subs, only two players were under age 28. Play your kids.

Indy host Ottawa next week, in the Class of ’14 derby. They ought to be able to put on a bit more of a show at home than they did this past weekend on the road.

PREdmonton
#7. FC Edmonton – (0-1-0, 1 pt) – No Change

The Eddies season debut didn’t exactly go as planned, with captain Albert Watson earning a 30th minute red card after he gave the ball away with a heavy touch, then tripped up Marvin Chávez as the last defender. It was easily the most boneheaded play of the opening weekend, but through sheer pluck and a bit of fortune, Edmonton escaped with a 0-0 draw and a valuable road point.

It’s hard to grade the attack of the Eddies, who didn’t threaten their hosts much in the opening half hour, and were mostly pressed into service preserving the point after that. Defensively however, Edmonton looked solid after Watson’s ejection. Matt Van Oekel had a typically extreme night in goal, gifting Rayo a chance to score through a horrific clearance, then making an excellent double save late. It was a fairly classic Eddies performance, save for head coach Colin Miller somehow not raging against the referee in his public comments and Lance Laing not finding a way to somehow score a winner.

Edmonton host Minnesota next week, which will be a much stiffer test of their mettle than a disjointed expansion club.

PRRayo
#8. Rayo OKC – (0-1-0, 1 pt) – No Change

Rayo OKC have gotten a good deal of hype in NASL circles for their player additions, but there’s always been the lingering doubt as to whether the team could draw a crowd. Credit where it’s due; the team sold out their opener, drawing 6,416, the largest crowd of the opening week. That’s genuinely impressive, and hopefully the club can keep that number up. Additional questions about the team’s turf field were also answered positively.

On the field, Rayo were less impressive. Despite having a man advantage for 60 minutes, the Scissortails could not find the back of the net. I’m not sure what head coach Alen Marcina has against proper preseason preparation, but once again his team played just a handful of games before the opening week, and once again his team looked like it needed a good bit more seasoning. Despite a talented roster, the connections and overall cohesion of a well-drilled team weren’t obvious. Late in the game, when Georgios Samaras entered as a final roll of the dice, there was really no rhyme or reason to anything Rayo OKC did, the Greek international even dropped back to receive the ball from his defenders at one point. They should’ve won all the same—Robbie Findley’s open-net miss with Van Oekel miles out of his goal was a jaw-dropping error—but you could see why they were struggling to break through.

Hopefully fans in Oklahoma City are not deterred by the 0-0 scoreline and return this coming week for the match against Carolina. But they will not see their home squad dominate to the same degree either.

PRMiami
#9. Miami FC – (0-1-0, 1 pt) – Up One

Miami FC improve in this week’s ranking mainly by virtue of two other teams looking worse than they did, and not through any merit of their own. Alessandro Nesta’s side were not exactly thrilling to watch in their first ever match against supposed crosstown rivals Fort Lauderdale. After taking an early lead, through a penalty kick, then watched as the Strikers ineffectively tried to attack for the rest of the game. In fairness, their defensive play was effectively mandated after the Cuban midfielder Jorge Luis Corrales came in like a wrecking ball on two tackles, earning himself a richly deserved first half red card.

After that, Miami were the more effective of the two teams with the ball, but they had less of it overall. They probably ought to have won the game all the same, but somehow managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory with a late foul in the box that gifted their hosts a penalty.

I dunno about you, but this team didn’t look particularly good.

PRFury
#10. Ottawa Fury – (0-0-1, 0 pts) – Down One

Predictably, the Fury were toasted by the Cosmos on their return to New York. Something about the team, from their new red kits to their inept defending, screamed “TFC” to me. That’s not a good sign.

Ottawa drop a place in the week one rankings, not because they lost, or even because they lost badly, but because they conceded thanks to egregious mistakes from last year’s golden gloves winner Romauld Peiser, and the defense in front of him. It was only a few months ago that Peiser and his back four were impenetrable. I still think the French goalkeeper was robbed of the Golden Ball award. But on Sunday, he was a liability. All three Cosmos goals were in part due to his error. And where a more alert defense could’ve cleaned up, Ottawa’s unit instead was flat-footed. If Ottawa can’t even count on their defense, I really don’t know what they can count on this year.

The one bright spot to me was the work of Marcel De Jong in midfield. The Canadian international is actually a left-back, but deputized in the midfield his aggression put the Cosmos on their heels, at least in the game’s early stages. But otherwise I worry. Mozzi Gyorio started for the Fury opposite De Jong. Now, I don’t know a good deal about Mozzi Gyorio as a player, and the reason that is, is because in his one year with Minnesota, he almost never even made the bench, was sent down to NPSL for playing time, thought it was beneath him, and sued the team for a breach of contract. Perhaps he’s a fine player who was terribly managed in Minnesota. I certainly don’t know. But when a player with that history is starting somewhere else, I have concerns about that team’s depth.

PRStrikers
#11. Fort Lauderdale Strikers – (0-1-0, 1 pt) – No Change

Easily the most disappointing thing in week one of the NASL season was the spectacle in Fort Lauderdale for the first SoFla derby against Miami FC. In MLS, we’ve seen how derby matches can provide a tremendous spark to players and fans, and the NASL was surely hoping for a similar effect in South Florida. The match was also the debut BeIN Sports broadcast of the league. Instead, the crowd was an embarrassment, and the play was not much better. Both teams earned their bottom-barrel placements in this power ranking, playing a match that was not easy on the eyes.

The game finished as a 1-1 draw through a penalty kick each. It was a lucky last-minute escape for the Strikers, but overall it probably reflected the balance of play. The hosts had most of the ball, thanks to Miami’s first-half red card. But they got absolutely nothing done with it. Meanwhile, they were repeatedly exposed on the counter by the undermanned visitors. It wasn’t a good look.

Fort Lauderdale has a bye next week, which is probably what they need after underwhelming at their opener.

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That’s how one person saw the first week in the NASL. How did you see it? Share your takes below!

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