For the New York Cosmos, the 2016 season will kick off in the same manner that 2015 came to an end...at Shurat Stadium against Ottawa Fury FC. Oddly enough, just under five months after our last competitive match, that's where the similarities between the two matches ends.
On that wonderful November day, we were treated to a matchup of the two best sides the North American Soccer League had to offer, the Spring Season champion Cosmos, versus the Fall Season title winners from Ottawa. These were the two best defensive sides in the league, and finished level on both points and goal difference after 30 matches were played. The Cosmos earned the right to host due to scoring seven more goals than the Fury, and that home field advantage might well have been the biggest difference in a 3-2 New York victory.
Since the match, both sides have undergone significant changes, though one fanbase is clearly more optimistic than the other ahead of the 2016 season. For the Cosmos, there have been significant additions to the roster, most notably in attack. The defense remains largely the same, however, and the club appears to be much deeper than it has been since the reboot. All told, most Cosmos fans and pundits are predicting another title for the boys in green and white, though most expect a strong challenge from Minnesota United FC.
For the Fury, the squad will look considerably different in 2016, and unless they significantly outperform even the most optimistic expectations, that new look won't be for the better. Gone is Head Coach Marc dos Santos, who has been replaced by Paul Dalglish. Also gone are core players such as Tom Heinemann, Mason Trafford, Andrew Wiedeman, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Ryan Richter, and Richie Ryan. As far as replacements go, the club's biggest additions were Jonny Steele, and former Real Madrid and Liverpool prospect Gerardo Bruna.
The Fury did manage to retain Romuald Peiser, Rafael Alves, and Julian de Guzman, but it's hard to see the current roster being anywhere near as stout defensively as they were in 2015, and without Heinemann up front, I have a hard time seeing where consistent goals are going to come from. Offense was a serious issue last season anyway, but they were able to rely on a deep, organized defense and excellent goalkeeper to grind out results. Without their only goal scoring threat and the core of that stellar defense, however, I really believe that they'll have the same sort of offensive struggles which plagued them early on in 2015, but while allowing quite a few more goals.
One important thing to note with both rosters, however, is that both New York and Ottawa made the bulk of their moves before their squads returned to training. Chemistry issues shouldn't be two serious, despite the new faces on both side, due to preseason training and friendly fixtures.
From a Cosmos perspective, those friendlies provided quite a few positive signs. The club's final match against the Charleston Battery didn't go particularly well, but before that we saw quite a few positive signs in all aspects of play. New signings like Yohandry Orozco and Yasmani Duk were especially impressive, leaving me excited to see what that pair can do against NASL competition.
Without having seen much of Dalglish and this Ottawa side, it's hard to predict how they'll approach Sunday evening's match. It's unlikely that they'd be nearly as defensive as they were last season, especially without the same sort of players on the roster, but given that they'll be heavy underdogs on the road, I wouldn't expect to see an overly attacking approach, either. That may have been Eric Wynalda's preferred way of approaching a far more talented opponent on the road, but most managers tend to be a bit more
sane pragmatic in their approach.
That said, it would behoove Gio Savarese's side to get themselves a goal early, to ensure that Dalglish can't be too conservative as the match wears on. I think they'll do just that in the opener, and finish week one at or near the top of the NASL table following a 3-1 victory.