Analyzing the 2015 NASL Spring Season Schedule

The NASL released its schedule for the spring campaign of the 2015 season on December 17, 2014. The league will have 11 teams for the spring split and each team will play 10 games.

In 2012, the NASL regular season had a balanced schedule, in which each of the 8 teams faced the other 7 teams four times (twice home and twice away) for a total of 28 games. The season lasted 25 weeks from April 7 to September 23 and contained regular season 112 matches.

The NASL split season format was introduced for the 2013 season but was altered to accommodate a break during the 2014 World Cup. Throughout Latin America, most leagues cut the regular double-round-robin schedule down the middle with a brief break in between. These leagues, like Mexico’s Liga MX, split the season in half and crown a separate championship for each short tournament.

America’s second division has not yet played an equal spring and fall schedule because of mid-season expansion and the 2014 World Cup. In 2013, the NY Cosmos joined the league for the fall season only while the league shifted the break earlier in order to pause competition while on eyes were on Brazil.

The 2015 spring season will feature 5 matches each weekend with one team sitting out each week. In order to maintain the structure in the NASL schedule, one of the 11 teams must observe a bye each matchday.

Between April 4 and June 13, the league will hold 55 games. Only one match is scheduled for Friday evening, the NASL’s Canadian derby as Ottawa Fury SC hosts FC Edmonton on May 29.

With the professional schedule structure in place, there are clearly no instances of teams playing games on back-to-back nights or two games in one weekend as happens in USL PRO. New Minnesota United FC signing J.C. Banks recently told Doherty Soccer that the league’s scheduling was an important selling point in his move to MNUFC. Banks said that the congested schedule in USL PRO, where he played 4 seasons with Rochester Rhinos, threatened players’ health and often didn’t provide enough time for rest and adequate training.

The 2015 spring campaign will last from 4/4 until 6/13

The 2014 spring campaign lasted from 4/12 until 6/08
The 2014 fall campaign lasted from 7/12 until 11/02

The 2013 spring campaign lasted from 4/06 until 7/04
The 2013 fall campaign lasted from 8/03 until 11/02

The 2015 season looks a lot like the beginning of the 2014 season even though there’s no World Cup this year to justify an early break,

The total NASL schedule has fluctuated only very slightly between 26 and 28 games for each team.

2011: 28 total games
2012: 28 total games
2013: 26 total games
2014: 27 total games
2015: 10+?

The league has set itself up for a headache with the fall split of the 2015 schedule.

If the league remains with 11 teams, NASL could double the spring campaign during the fall, playing each other team home and away. This format would still require a team to sit out each weekend and would probably have to feature one or two mid-week fixture dates in order to wrap up a 30-game regular season by the beginning of November.

If the league adds a 12th team for the fall campaign, as reported by Neil Morris with regard to the creation of a team around the Los Angeles market, circumstances change. The 12 teams could play each other once for 11 games or twice for 22 games.A 22 game fall season would mean a 32 game full season for the NASL, which is a considerable increase over recent years.

Another option, regardless of whether the Los Angeles team materializes, is to abandon the balanced schedule. If the league decides to go an unbalanced route, teams may face certain opponents more often depending on geographic proximity or presumed rivalries. The NASL would join USL PRO and MLS if it released an unbalanced schedule for the 2015 Fall campaign.

 

Jacksonville Armada FC Announces Miguel Gallardo as First Player

Miguel Gallardo was unveiled Tuesday with Jacksonville Armada FC

Miguel Gallardo was unveiled Tuesday with Jacksonville Armada FC

The 2015 NASL expansion team announced on Tuesday, October 21 that goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo is the first-ever Jacksonville Armada FC player. Gallardo will lead Jacksonville after playing four successful seasons with Orlando City SC of USL PRO.

“It is an honor to be the first signing in Armada FC’s history,” Gallardo said on Tuesday.

Gallardo initially joined Orlando City ahead of its inaugural season in 2011 in USL PRO. The 6’1″ goalkeeper played with the Austin Aztex in USL-1 for two seasons before moving with the club to Central Florida. With Orlando, Gallardo amassed 51 wins and 32 clean sheets in 82 appearances over his four seasons. Miguel Gallardo led the City Lions from the back en route to three regular season titles and two playoff championship trophies in USL PRO.

Gallardo apparently did not impress head coach Adrian Heath quite enough to earn an MLS contract alongside Kaká, Salvadoran national team star Darwin Cerén, and 2014 USL PRO MVP Kevin Molino. His four years leading the third division league with Orlando City, however, mean that Gallardo is among the strongest goalkeepers outside of MLS and will lead Jacksonville in the club’s first season.

Armada FC’s General Manager Dario Sala was glowing about Gallardo joining the club. “We are proud to welcome Miguel as our first signing. He encompasses all that we are looking for in our players – a well-developed skill set, strong character, leadership ability, a great résumé and a desire to be a part of our team and our community.”

There are few better players to build a defensive core around than the 29 year old goalkeeper. Gallardo not only put up impressive numbers but formed a powerful connection with Orlando City’s fans. Jacksonville Armada FC are hoping to capitalize on both Gallardo’s career pedigree and his personal characteristics to form the backbone of their squad.

“Today is an incredible moment in the history of the Armada FC and a key building block as we assemble a team that Jacksonville will be proud to call its own,” said Jacksonville Armada owner Mark Frisch.

Armada FC plans to fill out the rest of its 27-man roster by January 2015; look for future announcements about which players will join Gallardo on Jacksonville’s squad in the coming weeks.

Jacksonville Armada FC Names José Luis Villarreal Head Coach

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The future of the NASL looks bright if all expansion clubs can follow Jacksonville’s lead. On Wednesday afternoon the club, which will begin play in the second division league, announced the hiring of Argentinian coach José Luis Villarreal. Villarreal boasts an impressive CV as a player on multiple continents and valuable experience coaching a storied South American team.

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Jacksonville had already laid down a strong foundation before Wednesday’s announcement. Back on February 18 of this year, the club unveiled its name and logo after an extensive period of fan input. Club owner Mark Frisch and general manager Darío Sala proudly displayed the crest and explained the that the organization was “honored and proud to reflect the suggestions of our fans in our team name and logo while aligning with the history and tradition of this region.”

On Wednesday afternoon the club built a solid framework on top of the existing foundation. Continue reading

NASL Attendance Recap: April 21, 2014

The North American Soccer League has enjoyed an overall successful first two weeks to its 2014 season. Aside from some difficulties with the launch of the league’s video streaming service, NASL Live, and the integration of that streaming on mobile apps, the NASL has built on strengths from last season.

This year’s spring campaign (the first portion of the NASL season) features 3 more teams than 2013’s did, as NY Cosmos only played the fall campaign last year and the league has expanded to Indianapolis and Ottawa. All 3 of these newest clubs have shown promise off the field, notching up attendances ranging from decent to amazing.

Minnesota United FC, the league’s second best attended team of the spring campaign in 2013, hasn’t hosted a match yet this season. Several other teams have impressed with opening night attendances that were well above their season averages last year.

Indy Eleven is an unavoidable talking point. The club broke 11000 in its debut match but also reached 10400 in the rather more indicative second home game.

The NY Cosmos and San Antonio Scorpions have returned to the top of the attendance charts, where the two clubs finished 2013. Somewhat surprising though, Tampa Bay opened its season last week in front of an announced crowd of more than 7000. With all the MLS-expansion buzz in Florida (and the Southeast more generally), it will be interesting to see if the Rowdies can maintain that attendance level.

If you’ve got other observations about the attendance figures in the first two weeks of the 2014 NASL season, feel free to sound off below.

Week 2:
Ottawa Fury FC 1-2 Minnesota United FC, 3457
Atlanta Silverbacks 1-2 San Antonio Scorpions, 5000
Carolina RailHawks 4-1 Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 4007
Indy Eleven 1-1 Tampa Bay Rowdies, 10421
FC Edmonton 0-1 NY Cosmos, 4399

Week 1:
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2-0 Ottawa Fury FC, 3105
Indy Eleven 1-1 Carolina Railhawks, 11048
Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-1 FC Edmonton, 7003
San Antonio Scorpions 0-2 Minnesota United FC, 7381
NY Cosmos – Atlanta Silverbacks, 7906

As a point of comparison here are the full season (both the spring and the fall campaign) attendance averages for 2013.

Full 2013 season averages:
San Antonio Scorpions: 6951.3
New York Cosmos: 6858.7
Carolina RailHawks: 4707.6
Atlanta Silverbacks: 4702.6
Minnesota United FC: 4508.7
Fort Lauderdale Strikers: 4268.9
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 4043.9
FC Edmonton: 2409.7

NASL’s newest team launches as the Jacksonville Armada FC

Local political figures joined league commissioner Bill Peterson and the team’s executives during a press conference on Tuesday morning in Jacksonville, Florida.

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Council President Bill Gulliford told the crowd that he was “proud to welcome Jacksonville Armada FC to our city,” while Mayor Alvin Brown declared, “We want everyone to know that Jacksonville is soccer territory.”

After an extensive contest that allowed fans to suggest possible monikers for the club as well as the colors to be used in a logo and team kits, the results could not have been better. The area’s connection with naval history is not a gimmick but something real that came from the fans, themselves.

With regard to the newly announced name of the team, club owner Mark Frisch said that the organization was “honored and proud to reflect the suggestions of our fans in our team name and logo while aligning with the history and tradition of this region.”

Jacksonville Chamber President Daniel Davis stressed that, “Armada FC makes Jacksonville a player in a global game,” which complements well Commissioner Peterson’s comment that, “the Armada is now part of the global soccer community and global soccer economy.”

These quotes and a general buzz around words like “international” and “global” may foreshadow future announcements of marquee exhibition matches. The success of the USA v Scotland friendly match in May of 2012 was a cornerstone of the pitch by the Armada’s ownership team.

Former Argentine goalkeeper and current club general manager Darío Sala discussed his role of bringing “the best talent to the city.” Sala told the crowd that he would use his worldwide network of connections and relationships to draw foreign players while also scouting extensively in the local area and American colleges. As a former player agent, Sala will know the ins and outs of contract negotiations and may have a leg up during negotiations with clubs from Argentina especially.

NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson seemed almost giddy at the prospect of announcing Jacksonville Armada FC. “I love the thought and the process that went into [naming the team],” Peterson said during the press conference. He commended the organization for its strong and deliberative growth so far and set the stage for continued success with cross-state rivalries against NASL’s other Florida teams, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

Armada FC will get its chance to take on those teams and the rest of NASL, as well as the US Open Cup field, when it begins play in 2015. Fans can put down a refundable $30 season ticket deposit and learn more about the club by visiting www.ArmadaFC.com.

Looking at the 2014 NASL Schedule

For the 2014 season, NASL will continue using its split-season format which mirrors most of the Latin America but is unique to American professional soccer.

Spring season (Apertura):
The 10 clubs participating in NASL in 2014 will play nine matches each during the spring season, which means that some teams host five matches while others only host four. There are serious concerns about the integrity of the competition when the winner of the shortened, uneven spring season will win the right to host the championship match against the winner of the fall season.

During the spring season, all matches are on Saturday or Sunday with the exception of one Monday night football matchup as New York Cosmos host Minnesota United FC on May 12. This match is part of the preceeding weekend’s matchday but was pushed until Monday.

A nearly five-week extended break in between tournaments, in order to accommodate the entire World Cup, starts after Sunday 8 June’s matches and ends with Saturday 12 July’s matches.

Fall season (Clausura):
There will be 10 teams again in the fall season so each weekend will feature 5 matches. In order to squeeze all of league’s matches into a 17 week schedule, each team will play one midweek match on a Wednesday at some point during the fall season.

One anomaly in the scheduling is a Thursday night match that counts as part of the matchday for the weekend that immediate follows. Minnesota United FC hosts Carolina RailHawks on Thursday July 17 for the second matchday of the fall season. Continue reading

Youth Player Development in Lower Division Clubs

In an earlier post I highlighted the introduction of an academy roster program for USL-Pro clubs as a major step in USL’s player development model. The academy roster rule was introduced in February and designed to promote opportunities for young players from associated or regional academies to train and play with the senior team.

Despite seemingly different public positions on the importance of “development,” both professional leagues under MLS have begun signing local teenagers.

North American Soccer League Commissioner Bill Peterson has said, “We have no desire to be anyone’s minor league. We definitely have no interest in developing players for other leagues.” This could mean that NASL executives want players to stay the course in their league, but that seems highly unlikely in a world with NCAA and MLS drafts.

The United Soccer Leagues, on the other hand, regularly flaunts its developmental credentials. Every January after the MLS SuperDraft and during MLS pre-season, USL issues press releases refering to draft picks and recently signed MLS rookies as “former [insert PDL team] player.”

I find it interesting that regardless of the media directives passed down from respective league offices, teams from both leagues have set about to promote players from youth squads to train and play with the professional senior team.

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Richmond Kickers and Pittsburgh Riverhounds both took advantage of the academy roster designation by signing local talent to special contracts. The two USL-Pro clubs used an academy contract to each bring a player into selection for the senior team and a different training-only deal for other promising players. These young local players were Evan Fowler, Vaughn Fowler, and Christian Alcorn (Richmond), and Steven Munn and Tyler McCarthy (Pittsburgh).

NASL club Carolina RailHawks seems to be developing a similar path for players independent of a league directive. On October 31, the RailHawks announced that they had signed U-17/18 national team player Conor Donovan. The press release said that the team added the 17 year old defender to the team’s roster for the regular season finale. Continue reading