The NASL expanded to eight teams last fall with the addition of the New York Cosmos, and will make the jump to ten clubs participating this spring. Ottawa Fury FC and Indy Eleven will both be kicking off their 2014 season on Saturday, but have taken somewhat different paths in constructing their rosters.
Indy made a big name signing, adding former Manchester United midfielder Jose Kleberson to the squad. Walter Ramirez was a shrewd addition, and 18-year old Ben Spencer is an extremely exciting young American talent. Outside of that trio though, there might not be too much for neutral fans to get excited about, as the roster features a bunch of guys that have failed to make a real name for themselves professionally.
The scoring burden will likely fall on Mike Ambersley and Pedro Mendes, though Spencer will be relied upon to contribute as well. The defensive unit Juergen Sommer has at his disposal looks questionable at best, and given the short amount of time they've been together this spring, it's not hard to imagine this club hemorrhaging goals early on. Fortunately, goalkeeper Kristian Nicht is a fairly reliable player, and shouldn't make the potential defensive issues any worse.
I have a hard time picturing Indy finishing anywhere but at the bottom of the table, especially over the course of the combined campaign. With so many unknowns involved, a good run to start the nine-game spring season is probably their best hope of qualifying for the playoffs.
Ottawa brings the number of Canadian team in the NASL up to two, and on paper, they look like a very strong squad. Unlike Indy, Ottawa has opted for multiple players with MLS and European experience, and if they form a cohesive unit, could be a legitimate contender for a playoff spot in 2014.
The Canadian club's approach actually reminds me quite a bit of the route the Cosmos went last season, opting for an experienced outfield unit and a young, high-ceilinged goalkeeper. Former MLS players Tom Heinemann and Sinisa Ubiparipovic are the most recognizable names of the bunch, with Ubiparipovic in particular being one that most New Yorkers will know from his time with that club in New Jersey.
Richie Ryan, Tony Donatelli, and Nicki Patterson will join Sinisa in what should be a very formidable midfield, and Heinemann will have some support from Brazilian Vini Dantas up front. The defenders Marc Dos Santos has at his disposal should form a solid (if unspectacular) group, and I'm intrigued by Marcel del Bellis in goal.
It's always tough to tell how players will adapt to a new league, new teammates, and a new manager, and its even more difficult t predict how an expansion club will gel. That said, this is a very solid group on paper, and will likely get stronger as the season progresses. I wouldn't be surprised to see this group in the middle of the pack at the end of the spring, but challenging for the fall title and a top four finish in the combined table.