Ten teams battle for USA's third oldest pro soccer prize ... 2-day countdown to NASL 2014 season kickoff

With the start of the spring season just a couple days away, take a look at the 10 squads hoping to bring home the NASL title.
Two days from now ... New clubs, a new format and 10 teams all about to do battle for the North American Soccer League Spring title. There’s nothing quite like opening weekend and soccer fans tuning in to NASLlive.com will be treated to all the drama of the kickoff action when the 2014 NASL season gets underway.

The race for the third oldest professional soccer prize in the United States will start in Fort Lauderdale, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, San Antonio and New York. It ends in November when four teams that qualify for The Championship postseason competition meet in the semifinals and final for the chance to win the Soccer Bowl trophy.

The NASL spring season will run for nine weeks before the competition breaks for the duration of the FIFA World Cup and resumes with the fall season in July. The spring campaign will be unforgiving as 10 clubs battle for top spot.

“We’re on the eve of our season and we’re very excited to have ten teams competing,” said NASL commissioner Bill Peterson. “It is going to be edge-of-your-seat type of stuff because teams know that they can’t afford to lose or draw games in the shortened spring season. They have to win. It is as simple as that.

“We have always said we are trying to build this league based on the competition first and when you look at the rosters you will see how much our teams have matured. While visiting the teams during the past week, I have seen an intensity and focus on the faces of our players that tells me they are fired up for kickoff.”

Among the highlights coming on April 12-13:
  • A packed house at Carroll Stadium will witness the NASL debut of Indy Eleven against the Carolina RailHawks, who posted the NASL’s best combined seasons record in 2013.
  • The New York Cosmos defend their championship against the Atlanta Silverbacks in a rematch of NASL Soccer Bowl 2013.
  • Ottawa Fury FC plays its first game away in NASL history to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
  • San Antonio Scorpions and Minnesota United FC renew one of the league’s most bitter rivalries.
  • A Tampa Bay Rowdies side fielding last season’s top scorer and league MVP face FC Edmonton, which boasted the stingiest defense in the NASL in 2013.
The New York Cosmos will begin their defense of their NASL title on Sunday, when they host the same team they defeated for the Soccer Bowl last year, the Atlanta Silverbacks, at Hofstra University at 5 p.m. ET.

The Cosmos have beaten the Silverbacks in the last two meetings in Atlanta, including when a goal from Spanish international midfielder Marcos Senna stunned the Soccer Bowl record crowd of 7,211 and gave New York its sixth NASL championship. However, in their only meeting in New York, the Silverbacks held the home team to a 1-1 draw on Sept. 8, 2013.

Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese, whose club is riding an 11-game unbeaten streak, said of the upcoming season: “We have had a long preseason this year. We are looking forward to the start of our 2014 season against a quality opponent such as Atlanta at Hofstra Stadium this Sunday and defending our NASL title.  We’ve added some quality players and we feel very confident in our team.”

The Spring Season Week 1 officially kicks off on Saturday, with four matches, and features two Florida clubs hosting Canadian teams.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers welcome the newest team from north of the border, Ottawa Fury FC as they face off for the first time at the Lockhart Stadium at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Despite a disappointing start to their 2013 campaign, the Strikers concluded last year with a strong showing with a revamped squad under the direction of Austrian coach Gunter Kronsteiner, who is in his second consecutive season at the helm. Kronsteiner has assembled a strong squad with core of veterans returning, along with several offseason new signings including former German Bundesliga goalkeeper Oka Nikolova and striker Marius Ebbers.

“The first game is always the toughest to gauge,” said Kronsteiner. “In all my years of coaching, it’s always the same; until you step on the field for your first game of the season, you don’t know 100 percent how the team is going to play. It’s going to be even tougher this game, because Ottawa is a new team and we’ve never seen them play.”

Fury FC coach Marc Dos Santos, who coached with Montreal Impact in the NASL in 2011, has steered his team through an unbeaten preseason of matches and looks for the opportunity to shine in this inaugural season.

“I told our players this week – we might be an expansion team, but we are not expansion players,” said Dos Santos. “Saturday is a big moment for our club and our players are eager to start the season. At the end of the day this is the first of nine finals during the spring season for us and we’re prepared for it.”

Another Canadian team in action in the Sunshine State this Saturday, is FC Edmonton for a visit to the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The Eddies, who had the best defense in 2013, are currently unbeaten in their last four encounters against the Rowdies, including a 2-1 triumph in Edmonton last October. However, during the offseason the Rowdies have added to their firepower with the addition of NASL Golden Boot Brian Shriver, who top-scored with 15 goals, who is set to join last year’s Golden Ball winner and assists leader, fellow forward Georgi Hristov.

“The Rowdies have had some great offseason signings and seeing that this is their first home game of the season, they will have a good crowd there to watch,” said FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller. “We’ve traditionally played well down in Tampa so it all leads to this being an exciting game on Saturday.”

Also on Saturday, Michael A. Carroll Stadium is expected to put up ‘sold out’ signs as the league’s newest club Indy Eleven hosts the Carolina RailHawks at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Under the direction of former U.S. national team goalkeeper Juergen Sommer, Indy Eleven has added to its rookie squad a blend of internationally experienced players that includes a 2002 World Cup winner in midfielder Kleberson of Brazil.

On the opposing side of the pitch, the RailHawks, who ended last year with the best overall record but missed out on the Spring and Fall Championships, aim for redemption in 2014. Colin Clarke, who is currently the NASL all-time leader in victories in the modern era, again leads Carolina’s challenge.

“The RailHawks are a mature seasoned NASL club and Colin has assemble a good team over the years,” said Indy Eleven’s coach Sommer on the club’s inaugural NASL opponent for this Saturday. “They play a high level of soccer and I know he (Colin) will be bringing a competitive team. It will be a great environment with a sold out crowd.”

Rounding out Saturday’s clashes for Week 1 will be one of the fiercest NASL rivalries that matches the San Antonio Scorpions against Minnesota United FC at Toyota Field at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Both clubs are coming off a strong preseason showing in 2014 as Minnesota heads into this encounter having won three of the last five meetings against San Antonio including the both matches last fall.

“The team and staff are thrilled about taking the pitch on Saturday in front of what is sure to be an electric San Antonio crowd,” said Scorpions coach Alen Marcina. “Competing against Minnesota has traditionally led to both memorable and fiercely contested matches.”

United coach Manny Lagos adds: “I think this is a good match-up. Over the years, we've had some intense battles and it's gone back and forth. I think it's going to be the same thing on Saturday. They have some speedy and technical players with experience in the league and they're going to be a challenge."

Soccer fans around the world will be able to ‘Watch Every Match Live’ throughout the 2014 North American Soccer League season, which kicks off on the weekend of April 12-13 in Fort Lauderdale, Indianapolis, New York, San Antonio and Tampa Bay.

By subscribing to either a 30-day pass or a season access pass at www.NASLLive.com, soccer fans can access all 135 matches during the 2014 NASL spring and fall seasons.

Throughout the month of April, the NASL is offering a 10-day free trial to enjoy the weekly broadcasts as the league’s 10 teams battle to reach the postseason and compete in The Championship for the coveted Soccer Bowl trophy.

NASL Week 1 Schedule (All kickoff times ET)

Saturday, April 12

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Ottawa Fury FC
Lockhart Stadium; Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 7:30 p.m.

Indy Eleven vs. Carolina RailHawks
Michael A. Carroll Stadium; Indianapolis, Ind.  7:30 p.m.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. FC Edmonton
Al Lang Stadium; St. Petersburg, Fla. 7:30 p.m.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Minnesota United FC
Toyota Field; San Antonio, Tex. 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 13

New York Cosmos vs. Atlanta Silverbacks
James M. Shuart Stadium; Hempstead, N.Y. 5 p.m.