Tampa Bay Sports Day

NASL: Debut of Puerto Rico FC Headlines Opening Week of Fall Season

NEW YORK — North American League Soccer (NASL) action returns on Saturday night with a six-game lineup full of rivalry matchups and debuts.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Miami FC get the Fall Season rolling in the South Florida Derby at Lockhart Stadium, while across the state the Tampa Bay Rowdies host Jacksonville Armada FC at Al Lang Stadium.

Puerto Rico FC plays its first ever NASL contest when the club hosts Spring Season Champion Indy Eleven, marking the return of professional soccer on the Caribbean island. The NASL will also make its debut on CBS Sports Network when Rayo OKC welcomes FC Edmonton to Miller Stadium.

In the other two games on Saturday, the Carolina RailHawks travel to face Minnesota United, while Ottawa Fury FC makes the trip to New York to face the Cosmos at Shuart Stadium, where they fell narrowly in The Championship Final last November.

Here are full previews for each of the six Fall Season openers:

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Miami FC
7 p.m. ET | Saturday, July 2
Lockhart Stadium | Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Watch | ESPN3 (National – U.S.), NASL.com (National – Canada), SFL-TV (Local – Fort Lauderdale), *International outlets

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers closed out the Spring Season as one of the hottest teams in the NASL. Despite a loss in their Spring finale, the Strikers were unbeaten in their five previous league games. Now, Fort Lauderdale begins its Fall Season against the same Miami FC side that it played in the 2016 opener. The Strikers were able to secure a late 1-1 draw in the first contest against their new South Florida rivals.

Miami FC started its first year in the NASL slowly, but improved as the Spring Season wore on, keeping three clean sheets in a row before losing to Minnesota United in the final game on June 11. Miami, though, has revamped its roster during the midseason break. Dynamic midfielder Kwadwo Poku has joined the squad to complement the central pairing of Richie Ryan and Michael Lahoud. Miami FC heads to Fort Lauderdale seeking its first away win.

New York Cosmos vs. Ottawa Fury FC
7 p.m. ET | Saturday, July 2
Shuart Stadium | Hempstead, N.Y.
Watch | ONE World Sports (National – U.S.), ONEWorldSports.com (National – U.S., Canada), Rogers TV (Local – Ottawa)

The New York Cosmos were a whisker away from claiming the Spring Season title, and after falling just short, they now turn to the Fall Season for silverware and a berth into The Championship. New York has been led by Venezuelan star Juan Arango, who has scored four goals with three assists in 2016. The Cosmos also begin the Fall Season where they have yet to drop any points in league play this year in five tries: at Shuart Stadium. The Cosmos knocked off Ottawa Fury FC, 3-0, to open up the Spring Season.

Ottawa had a tremendous turnaround in last year’s Fall Season to claim the club’s first trophy. During the midseason break, Fury FC strengthened its back line with the addition of veteran Eddie Edward, and Paul Dalglish’s side is hoping to get back to the defensive form the team had last Fall Season when they allowed just 15 goals in 18 games.

Puerto Rico FC vs. Indy Eleven
7:30 p.m. ET | Saturday, July 2
Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium | Bayamón, Puerto Rico
Watch | ESPN3 (National – U.S.), NASL.com (National – Canada), WAPA-TV (Local – Puerto Rico), WISH-TV (Local – Indy)

Puerto Rico FC will mark its debut in the NASL against Spring Season Champion Indy Eleven as professional soccer returns to the Caribbean island. The roster has several familiar faces including veterans David Meves, Cristiano Dias, and Pedro and Paulo Mendes. The roster also features Puerto Rican internationals Jackie Marrero, Jorge Rivera, and Hector Ramos. The Carmelo Anthony-owned side also has several burgeoning young talents, including U.S. youth international Ramon Martin del Campo.

Indy returns to league play after a stunning 4-1 win over the Carolina RailHawks to claim the Spring Season title on the strength of Eamon Zayed’s hat trick. The Boys in Blue have only lost once so far in 2016 (Open Cup) and, after claiming the club’s first piece of silverware and spot into The Championship, will now shift focus towards earning the top overall seed in the postseason. The Eleven have bolstered their lineup with Mexican national team veteran Gerardo Torrado, who will be available on July 9, and Guinean international Souleymane Youla, who has yet to make a league appearance.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Jacksonville Armada FC
7:30 p.m. ET | Saturday, July 2
Al Lang Stadium | St. Petersburg, Fla.
Watch | | beIN SPORTS (National – U.S., Canada), beIN SPORTS CONNECT (National – U.S., Canada), BHSN 1147 (Local – St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay), CW17 (Local – Jacksonville)

The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Jacksonville Armada FC wrapped up their Spring Seasons against each other in a 1-1 draw in Jacksonville. Now, the Florida rivalry shifts to Al Lang Stadium for the clubs’ Fall Season opener. Tampa Bay finished the Spring Season unbeaten in three games, led by Georgi Hristov and Joe Cole’s strong attacking play.

Jacksonville is hoping to build off a run of three consecutive draws to end the Spring Season. The Armada FC made some changes to its roster to bolster its attacking prowess, including Swedish pair Alexander Andersson and Nicklas Maripuu, who should be available for next week’s contest. Welsh youth international Danny Barrow started to emerge as a creative hub for Jacksonville and will look to build off those displays heading into the Fall Season.

Minnesota United vs. Carolina RailHawks
8 p.m. ET | Saturday, July 2
NSC Stadium | Blaine, Minn.
Watch | | ESPN3 (National – U.S.), NASL.com (National – Canada), MY29 (Local – Twin Cities), TWC SportsChannel (Regional – North/South Carolina), WRAL2 (Local – Cary/Raleigh)

Minnesota United and the Carolina RailHawks both had an opportunity to claim the Spring Season title, but it slipped just out of their grasp with inconsistent form. The Loons, though, closed the Spring Season on a strong note with a 3-1 win over Miami FC. Christian Ramirez and Stefano Pinho have scored five and three goals, respectively, with fullback Kevin Venegas creating plenty of opportunities from the right flank.

Carolina started off hot, but fizzled offensively in the Spring Season. The RailHawks have since added forward Matt Fondy to attempt to increase their goalscoring output in the Fall Season. A win over Minnesota would be Carolina’s first since the end of April.

Rayo OKC vs. FC Edmonton
9 p.m. ET | Saturday, July 2
Miller Stadium | Yukon, Okla.
Watch | CBS Sports Network (National – U.S., Canada)

Rayo OKC can take plenty of positives from their inaugural Spring Season campaign and will want to do the same in the Fall Season, starting with its contest against FC Edmonton on Saturday. Back in April, the clubs played to a 0-0 draw in front of a standing room only crowd at Miller Stadium. Brazilian Michel leads the team with five goals, while goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes has been key, making 31 saves in the first 10 games of the season.

FC Edmonton closed out the Spring Season just one point behind Spring Season Champion Indy Eleven. Jake Keegan has led the way in the attack with four goals, while Papé Diakité has been a key cog at both ends of the field for Edmonton, scoring twice and forming a strong center back pairing with Albert Watson. The Eddies have lost just once in their last seven league games.