Six teams are in action tonight at the North American Soccer League or NASL begins their spring season. The Tampa Bay Rowdies will begin defense of their title tonight at 7:30 ET against the Carolina Railhawks. At the same time the Fort Lauderdale Strikers welcome FC Edmonton. The third match of the night begins at 8 pm ET with the home side Minnesota United FC facing the San Antonio Scorpions. The NASL has adopted a split league schedule so the winner of the spring season will take on the winner of the fall season in November in order to claim the 2013 Soccer Bowl.
The Rowdies title defense will begin in their home venueand with a large core of returning players. Al Lang Stadium is the site as Tampa Bay still looks for its first regular season victory over the Railhawks. Carolina returns 15 players from a semifinal team last year, one more than their opponent this evening. Well traveled Diego Restrepo is in a tight race with Andrew Fontein to start in net for Tampa Bay. However, this is a match of league favorites with a lot of familiar faces.
For Carolina this marks the first time in five years that the team did not change owners. The team is flying high with new tie-ins to local youth teams, large attendance numbers at preseason competitions, and new party decks for pre-and post-game entertainment with the help of music site ReverbNation. However, the Railhawks still operate on a minimal budget which has been hampered further by the season being extended six weeks. Exercising club options to keep the core of players can take a major hit out of a team’s budget. Tonight’s match may also have a hint of revenge for Carolina who lost 5-4 on aggregate to Tampa Bay in last year’s playoffs.
At Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida the Strikers and FC Edmonton begin the season as foes for the third straight year. Edmonton has been held scoreless in Florida for 384 minutes with the Strikers going 4-0-1 in the last five meetings between the teams at Lockhart. Major Leageu Soccer veteran Shavar Thomas should make his debut for the Strikers tonight.
Edmonton begins the season on a three game road trip as the weather is never predictable on their home turf. Colin Miller has taken over as coach for a team with many new faces. One of them is Carlyle Mitchell on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps. Edmonton finished last in the NASL last year but remain optimistic.
The final game of the night takes place at the Metrodome as rebranded Minnesota United and their stunning kits take on San Antonio. Minnesota knocked the Scorpions out of the playoffs last year in rout to the NASL final. They also raided the San Antonio roster of three players including last year’s MVP Pablo Campos.
The Scorpions have a much different roster from last year. MLS veterans Pat Phelan and Bryan Jordan join the squad along with several players from the former Yugoslavia. This will be only the second year of play for San Antonio but they have a lot of impressive figures from 2012 to build on.
The Atlanta Silverbacks are idle this week while the NY Cosmos begin play in the fall season. All the matches can be viewed on NASL.com.