While the North American Soccer League won't reveal their Team of the Week for another few hours, I've now managed to watch all five of this weekend's games, and decided to do my own. While most of the openers were far less exciting than fans would have hoped, there were some impressive performances, nonetheless. Here's my standout eleven from week one:
Matt van Oekel, Goalkeeper, FC Edmonton
Of the ten goalkeepers to start the opening week of the season, five managed to keep a clean sheet. Two more were only beaten from the penalty spot, meaning a whopping 70% of the league's clubs didn't concede from open play.
In a situation like that, picking the best of the lot is difficult, but Van Oekel was an easy choice, as far as I was concerned. Rayo OKC dominated possession while playing with a man advantage for the last hour of Saturday's opener, leaving Van Oekel under heavy pressure not to concede. While only four of Rayo's 17 shots wound up requiring a save, the former Minnesota United man stopped them all.
Ayoze, Fullback, New York Cosmos
Quite a few defenders had excellent opening weeks, but the Cosmos left back might have been the best of the bunch. Ayoze was battling injury, and had to pass a late fitness test to start, but was absolutely sensational in the title game rematch.
While Paul Dalglish employed far more aggressive tactics than his predecessor ever did, the Fury produced almost nothing down Ayoze's left side. Dennis Chin was a complete non-factor on Sunday evening, with the Ottawa left side being forced to overcompensate for the fact that the right side of their attack had gone MIA.
Carlos Mendes, Centerback, New York Cosmos
Mendes has been named to the league's Best XI in each of the past two seasons, and watching the Cosmos captain closely on Sunday shows exactly why. At no point in the match did Mendes do anything flashy, and he actually finished the game with zero tackles, but he was constantly in the right place to cut out Ottawa attacks before they could result in a shot, and he did a fabulous job of starting attacks from the back in the absence of Roversio. Jimmy Maurer is going to have a great season if he never has to worry about anything coming from his left.
Pape Diakite, Centerback, FC Edmonton
Like Van Oekel, Diakite stood out in a very difficult situation, when the Eddies were reduced to ten. Diakite performed exceptionally well in keeping Edmonton in the contest, despite Rayo dominating possession, and pouring pressure on for most of the match.
Darnell King, Fullback, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Rowdies fans will be disappointed that they dropped points at home against the Eleven, but they should be quite pleased with the excellent play of King. Darnell was his usual active self on Saturday, providing width to Tampa's attack while still being able to get back and snuff out threats on that flank.
Ariel Martinez, Midfielder, Miami FC
The South Florida derby between Fort Lauderdale and Miami FC was an entirely forgettable affair, but Martinez produced one of the best performances from any player in week one. The Cuban defector was all over the pitch, and was one of the biggest reasons that Fort Lauderdale's attack looked as bad as they did, despite playing over half of the match with a man advantage.
In addition to his excellent work when Miami weren't in possession, the 29-year old accounted for half of the expansion side's total shot. All in all, it was a great NASL debut.
Austin Da Luz, Midfielder, Carolina RailHawks
Da Luz scored the winning goal against Minnesota United, and was a danger man all match. The midfielder provided width down the left hand side while also making himself a target in the box, making himself a real headache for Justin Davis all afternoon.
While Carolina didn't make many flashy signings this winter, Da Luz and teammate Tiyi Shipalane played well enough on Saturday to make that decision look justified.
Juan Arango, Midfielder, New York Cosmos
The first thirty minutes of Arango's NASL debut were fairly quiet, but the Venezuelan finished the match with a pair of big goals, and could have easily had two more if not for a pair of big saves. While the 35-year old won't wow anyone with his speed of defensive work, his understanding of how to take advantage of the space created by the movement of his teammates was undefendable in the opener. Clubs are going to have to pay close attention to Arango going forward, or he's going to be a regular on the Team of the Week.
Tiyi Shipalane, Midfielder, Carolina RailHawks
Shipalane has been one of the league's best players over the past several years, and on Saturday, he picked up right where he left off. Tiyi scored the equalizer and looked threatening all match, combining with Austin Da Luz to give the RailHawks some attacking threat despite a lack of production down the middle.
If Carolina manage to find an actual goal scoring threat down the middle, this team could become one of the most dangerous in the league. Even if they don't, however, NASL left backs aren't going to enjoy playing the RailHawks.
Jairo Arrieta, Forward, New York Cosmos
As far as the stat sheet is concerned, Arrieta had a relatively quiet debut. He assisted on Arango's first goal of the match, but didn't do a whole lot beyond that. Watching closely, however, Arrieta was the key to stretching Ottawa's defense all evening, constantly making runs in behind the Fury fullbacks caught up the pitch, dragging Ottawa's centerbacks out of position in the process.
Jairo Arrieta, all touches, week one
Because of that movement, New York's midfielders were able to find plenty of open space in the center of the Fury defense, a big reason why Romuald Peiser was the busiest keeper in the league.
Christian Ramirez, Forward, Minnesota United
I wasn't nearly as impressed with Ramirez on Saturday as I have been in the past, but any time a player manages a goal like this, he's going to be in the Team of the Week.