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NASL Kicks Off Seventh Season On March 25, 2017

NASL Kicks Off Seventh Season On March 25, 2017

March 24, 2017
North American Soccer League (NASL) action returns this weekend when North Carolina FC, Puerto Rico FC, and the San Francisco Deltas host season openers on Saturday night.

The opening weekend slate is headlined by the Deltas' inaugural game, which comes against 2016 runner-up Indy Eleven at San Francisco's historic Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park.

The New York Cosmos will begin their NASL title defense away from home against Puerto Rico FC, which is hoping its new signings give the club a boost in its second season. At Wake Med Soccer Park, North Carolina FC will play its first league game since its offseason rebrand, welcoming a tough Miami FC side to Cary, N.C. 

A more in-depth preview of each contest can be found below:

Puerto Rico FC vs. New York Cosmos

7:30 p.m. ET | Saturday, March 25

Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium | Bayamón, P.R.

Watch | beIN SPORTS (National - U.S.) beIN SPORTS CONNECT (National - U.S.), NASL.com (National - Canada)

The New York Cosmos won their third NASL title in four years last November, winning on penalty kicks over Indy Eleven. The club's title defense begins in the Caribbean on Saturday with a matchup against new-look Puerto Rico FC.

The Cosmos have returned the core of the squad that has brought so much success to the club over the years, including goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, captain and defender Carlos Mendes, and midfielder Danny Szetela. New York didn't rest on its laurels, though. The Cosmos added Italian forward Amauri to the attack, along with Salvadoran international Irvin Herrera. NASL veteran Richard Menjivar, also a Salvadoran international, joined the club, as did midfielders Javi Márquez and Juan Guerra.

Puerto Rico FC heads into the campaign with a young, hungry roster. The club added plenty of promising talent like Puerto Rican international Michael Ramos, but new additions Giuseppe Gentile, Conor Doyle, and Barcelona Academy product Jordi Quintillá will especially look to put their stamp on the side. Leading the line is Puerto Rican international Hector Ramos, who scored eight goals in the 2016 Fall Season. In the offseason, the club also signed Honduran international Jairo Puerto, who will add critical experience to the youthful squad.

New York owned its season series against Puerto Rico FC last year, winning both meetings, but this weekend's hosts have benefitted from a competitive preseason lineup that included three international games in the Caribbean Club Championship.

North Carolina FC vs. Miami FC

7:30 p.m. ET | Saturday, March 25

WakeMed Soccer Park | Cary, N.C.

Watch | ESPN3 (National - U.S.), NASL.com (National - Canada), Spectrum SportsChannel (Regional - North and South Carolina), WRAL2 (Local - Cary/Raleigh)  

Miami FC hits the road for its first contest of the 2017 season with several new faces on its roster. The club's season-opening opponent on Saturday has a new look - on and off the field - after the Carolina RailHawks rebranded to North Carolina FC in the offseason.

While Miami's late push to reach last year's postseason fell short, head coach Alessandro Nesta enters this season with confidence after bolstering his squad with several names that are awfully familiar in NASL circles. In came former Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner Stefano Pinho, as well as 2016 NASL Best XI member Michel, who scored 14 goals a year ago. Also added into the mix was former Indy Eleven playmaker Dylan Mares.

The new additions will look to combine with the attacking talent from last year's side - Kwadwo Poku and Jaime Chavez - to lead the charge towards the postseason, beginning with the opening weekend.

Ushering in a "new state of soccer" in the Triangle, North Carolina FC will look to start off the season on the right foot with a win in front of its home support. Returning to the center of the midfield is the club's captain, Nazmi Albadawi, who set a league record with 10 assists in 2016. Veterans Tiyi Shipalane, Brian Shriver, and Matt Fondy will look to benefit once again from Albadawi's creativity and passing accuracy in the final third.

One of the more intriguing moves of the offseason is North Carolina FC's addition of Lance Laing to the left flank. Laing, a three-time NASL Best XI selection, will aim to rekindle his best form at WakeMed Soccer Park. With the addition of Laing, North Carolina has plenty of speed, skill, and dynamism on the flanks between the Jamaican veteran and Shipalane. Fullbacks around the league may have their hands full trying to stop the pacey pair this season.

With expectations high for both clubs, hitting the ground running from the opening whistle should help build momentum to start the Spring Season.

San Francisco Deltas vs. Indy Eleven

10 p.m. ET | Saturday, March 25

Kezar Stadium | San Francisco, Calif.

Watch | Twitter (National - U.S., Canada)

Saturday night will kick-start a new era for the NASL and professional soccer in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Deltas will host the league's first Modern Era game on the West Coast as they play host to last year's runner-up, Indy Eleven, at historic Kezar Stadium.

Right from the start of their debut campaign, the Deltas should be a tough side. Under the direction of head coach Marc Dos Santos, who reached The Championship Final in 2015, San Francisco boasts a roster full of veteran experience. The club's inaugural signings should come together to form an organized and dangerous attacking side. Familiar players to Dos Santos, including forward Tom Heinemann and goalkeeper Romuald Peiser, headline San Francisco's roster.

Indy Eleven enters the season eager to repeat the success it experienced in 2016, but of course, Tim Hankinson's side will want to go one step further and lift the Soccer Bowl Trophy. The Boys in Blue returned the majority of last year's roster, including top scorer Eamon Zayed, who found the net 15 times last year. That team chemistry should serve the club well during the upcoming campaign, but Indy also added several new pieces that could impact their season in a positive way. In particular, former Minnesota United midfielder Ben Speas will add some creativity and an additional goalscoring presence. 

The Boys in Blue are no strangers to playing against a club in its first home game. Last year, Indy Eleven visited Puerto Rico FC for its inaugural contest, coming away with a point in a 1-1 draw.   

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