It's just over five hours from the kickoff of the 2014 NASL season, so it's probably time to take a shot at predicting what the table will look like. I'm generally terrible at this sort of thing, and with the spring season consisting of just nine games for each club, this probably won't look anything like the table when June rolls around. Regardless, here's how I think the table will shape up this spring:
1) New York Cosmos
The Cosmos finished atop the standings last fall by a fairly wide margin before winning the Soccer Bowl in Atlanta. Kyle Reynish was the only player of note to leave this winter, and the additions to the squad should help the offense improve greatly on their inconsistent 2013 fall showing. I think this will be a popular pick.
2) San Antonio Scorpions
I like what the Scorpions did during the winter, and really think that they've put together a squad that can push the Cosmos to the limit. That said, the spring season is short, and there was a lot of turnover in San Antonio which could lead to some inconsistency early on that prevents them from pushing them too hard this spring.
3) Minnesota United
I don't know if Minnesota will be able to consistently score enough to push the league's top teams after the injury to Pablo Campos, but I fully expect them to boast one of the better defensive units around. They should be very tough to score against, and over a nine game spring season, many clubs might not have developed the sort of chemistry in the attack necessary to break them down.
4) Carolina RailHawks
Everything I said about Minnesota can be repeated for the RailHawks, though I don't think they'll be quite as good defensively as the team picked just above them. If they hadn't lost Brian Shriver this winter, I'd have probably picked them to finish the spring season one spot higher.
5) Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Rowdies probably have the league's best attack, as well as the best keeper in the league. What they don't have is a strong defense, or a midfield strong enough to take control of most games. That sort of team is tough to predict, as a run of good form could easily see them top of the table, while struggles offensively could easily see them right at the bottom. I'll play it safe and pick them to finish fifth.
6) Ottawa Fury
One of the league's two new sides, this one is hard to predict. I like the squad they've assembled, but have doubts about whether or not they'll be cohesive enough to contend early on. Sixth seems like a relatively safe prediction here, though seeing them as high as third or fourth wouldn't surprise me at all.
7) Indy Eleven
I was very tempted to pick Indy to finish lower than this, but I feel they'll probably punch above their weight class early on. They seem to have built a pretty fantastic core group of fans, and with very few opposing managers knowing what to expect from them, I can see an experienced talent like Jose Kleberson causing havoc.
8) Fort Lauderdale Strikers
This isn't the least talented squad in the league, but at the same time, I don't think they have anywhere near the quality necessary to seriously push for a playoff spot. I feel like mid-table is probably the ceiling for this group, and a run of poor results in the winnable games could have them bringing up the rear.
9) FC Edmonton
In my opinion, this group should probably finish at the bottom based on the squad they've assembled. They'll likely play the same sort of defense-first style that they did in 2013 though, and could nick enough points against teams lacking a cutting edge to finish above a club or two.
10) Atlanta Silverbacks
Atlanta had a ton of departures this winter, they've got a new coach that's only with the squad when his job at FOX allows for it, and most of the players they've brought in are untested at this level. They'll be better during the fall than they will during the spring, but I think they'll be glued to the bottom of the table until it resets after the first nine matches.