Italy-Republic of Ireland Betting Preview: Goals at both

[SPOILERS] The World of the Early Medieval Period and What to Expect from an AC Vikings Game

Since news broke about the next Assassin’s Creed title setting being within the Viking Era, I’ve seen hundreds of comments and questions pertaining to the early medieval setting. Today I want to break down a lot of information in regards to the era and how that can pertain to AC in terms of story, gameplay, and lore. To help make things simple, I’ll leave a map I made here to help show where everything is.
https://i.imgur.com/EfITZcF.jpg
DISCLAIMER - If I got anything major wrong, please let me know so I can correct it. I’ve spent hours searching through various online resources to make this as accurate as I can overall, though there is some speculation based on lack of resources and called out as what I think Ubisoft might do in cases of discrepancies. I did try to keep everything easy to understand even when diving deep into some subjects, so please let me know if you feel something was misrepresented from this. I also do have some inconsistencies with spellings. Many early records did not have standardized spellings, and Old Norse is a pain, so I keep things anglicized for the most part on purpose. For the sake of this, I do group several smaller germanic and slavic kingdoms such as Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland in with the Frankish empire due to the Frankish Influence in society, religion, and architecture. This was purely for ease of listing.
This post was actually written in a google document and is 40 pages long. I understand reddit can be harsh for reading such a long post, so you can read it here.

Second Disclaimer: This was WAY bigger than I thought. So I've split this into 5 distinct sections for ease of access.
  1. FAQ and The World of the Early Medieval Period - Current Section
  2. The People of the Early Medieval Period
  3. The Politics of the Early Medieval Period
  4. The Warfare in the Early Medieval Period
  5. The History of Vikings and What I expect from an AC Viking Game

Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When is the Viking Age?
The Viking Age takes place from 793ce with the Raid on Lindisfarne, England to 1066ce with the Norman Invasion of England and expulsion of the Vikings
Q. When will the game be set within this era?
We currently can only speculate, but two settings in a Ubisoft Poll from a few years ago were during the Viking Era. The Invasion of England by the Great Heathen Army (865ce) and the Norman Invasion by William the Conqueror (1066ce). I’ll discuss more in depth below.
Q. Where will the viking game take place?
Based on polls from Ubisoft that included the viking settings of the Great Heathen Army and Norman Invasion, England is a relatively safe bet. It is also likely that at least some of Scandinavia will be available as well. From the map above, I believe the best guess would be the island of Britain (modern England, Wales, and Scotland), Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. I will be discussing all of Northern Europe that’s shown in the map, though.
Q. Why codename it Kingdom in the viking era, and what will the actual name be?
The codename Kingdom could be in reference to a number of things that could be present in the game. The vikings had several major kingdoms throughout the Age, the largest of which was the North Sea Empire ruled by Cnut the Great. It could also be in reference to the English Kingdoms that players may invade; or even a gameplay mechanic to making your “kingdom” stronger. While the official name has not been revealed, it’s widely speculated to be called “Ragnarok” as a reference to the end times in Norse mythology, due to the connection to Origins, popularity in media, and name being used in several unconfirmed and fake rumors plus a potential concept art leak from 2018.
Q. What evidence is there for the game?
While Kingdom has not been confirmed by Ubisoft, it was leaked by Jason Schreier, who has a perfect track record with AC leaks. It was followed up by a leak by french website xboxygen that many consider to be legitimate due to accuracy on Watch Dogs Legion leaks. We also have concept art from an artist at Ubisoft that was supposedly fan work for their portfolio, but named “michele-nucera-assassincreedragnarok-bay-09.jpg”. The naming convention and timing has many fans speculating heavily. This of course matches with at least one fake leak and several small 4chan rumors that have stated the next game will be named “Ragnarok” and follow Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons great army.
https://kotaku.com/odd-tease-in-the-division-2-spills-the-beans-on-the-nex-1833838193
http://www.xboxygen.com/News/29092-Assassin-s-Creed-chez-les-Vikings-nos-informations
https://gamerant.com/assassins-creed-ragnarok-ubisoft-concept-art/
Q. Will we play as assassins again with hidden blades?
Nothing is officially confirmed yet, but it is unlikely to be full assassins fighting Templars again. The term assassin did not exist until the crusades as a term used to describe the followers of Hassan Ibn Sabbah, who wasn’t born until about 1050ce. With the viking era ending in 1066, it’s unlikely his influence had been amassed and the Hidden Ones were rebranded within AC lore. Templars were in a similar state, with the Templar orders not existing until the early 12th century. Rather than playing as either a Hidden One and fighting the Order of Ancients, we may also play as a viking mercenary popular towards the end of the era called Jomsvikings to further capitalize on Odyssy’s success. I’ll discuss them more later.The hidden blade is a bit more likely though, with it having been invented around 460bce and popularized in 44bce.


The World
Vikings raided and pillaged most of Europe during their voyages, reaching from the Baltic States and Kievan Rus as far south as North Africa, Italy, and even vandalizing Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I will, however, be focusing on Northern Europe for this discussion, breaking down regions to discuss their land, cities, and architecture. This map of viking trade routes may also be helpful though it isn’t 100% accurate.
Europe is filled with rivers and marshlands as seen here, which was easy for vikings to maneuver due to their longships. As a result, I do think we might see a few rivers enlarged in Kingdom/Ragnarok in order to make ship travel mildly easier and more conducive to gameplay, much like Rogue did.
England, being the most likely to appear, seems to be the best place to start off. England is the largest of the countries in Britain, with the map previously shared it taking up Wessex, Danelaw, Mercia, and Northumbria. I’ll be discussing the changes of those Kingdoms later. England is a largely low lying country, with the largest mountain range, Pennine Mountains, in Northern England. Much of southern England, however, are forests and rolling hills in the center of the country, with much of the outskirts being thick marshes that viking longships could navigate through.A good map of Mountains can be seen here:
Map of swamps here:
I have seen maps of wetlands from the Uk that indicate that there used to be wetlands in the Pennine Mountains, but it seems to be fairly speculative.
Wessex was the southernmost kingdom, and under Alfred the Great underwent a large change to fortify many of its towns or burhs. Stone was hard to quarry and come by at the time, with most of it being taken from Roman fortifications and used in defensive perimeters and churches. This did make abandoned roman forts a popular place to start burhs though. We see largely wooden fences with a trench in front surrounding many towns to help defend from vikings. Inside are mostly 1 story houses separated by a few fairly wide streets. A church was oftentimes a centerpiece of the city, and it wasn’t uncommon to have some farms within the walls itself along with the outside. While burhs like this were more numerous, they likely won’t be the focal points for our adventure in the next AC, instead looking at larger cities instead. They may appear as forms of PoI though or tied to a settlement system. Those closer to Roman ruins were sometimes repurposed to include the first Motte and Bailey castles (more on them in a few moments).
Our bigger cities will likely include Winchester, Canterbury, London, Chester, Bristol, and York. York was by far the largest city with about 15,000 people in its walls by the time the Great Heathen Army landed, with the other cities having 5,000 or fewer. These cities, however, unlike the other burhs had large Roman walls around them already. This did mean that the city size was restricted though, and rather than rebuild walls, the people began building up.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages the early medieval peoples lost the knowledge on how to build out of stone well, and quarry for more stone, making it a very valuable commodity. As I mentioned, this meant many burhs and towns were built on top of Roman forts, stripping them for stone to build churches and walls. The rest of the buildings had to deal with cheaper architecture. The most notable of which is wattle and daub. This is thin branches are weaved together and placed into upright slats and then have a thick mud caked on and hardened. This was the most common form of architecture in the early medieval period due to how cheap it was. Timber was still expensive, and despite using cheaper woods to create floors (these often had be elevated slightly on stakes in order to help slow rot, but had to be replaced regularly), was fairly expensive. Timber frames still had to be used though to help keep the shape of the building. Not common early on, at some point around the Viking Era in Britain, we begin to see diagonal bracing added to help keep houses steady.
In the older Roman Cities, many of the roman buildings and forts were stripped early on. London didn’t have any of the original Roman houses left by 1000ce, and by 1100ce had stripped the fort itself leaving only the walls behind. This stone was largely used to create stable foundations for buildings, including along the forming of Thames Street and eventually London Bridge. This also meant that combined with improved timber framing, people could start building upwards and outwards. The process of building high floors larger than the first is called jettying, and became synonymous with the medieval era, becoming very popular in the latter half. While jettying had been around for nearly 1000 years, it was still relatively new for Britain, and by 1066, houses were just reaching 2-3 stories high. We do know that this was incredibly popular by 1100-1200, and began being restricted and regulated in London by 1300 due to some fires in 1133 and 1212 due to building proximity. As buildings couldn’t grow their first floors to impede foot traffic (regulated by law), having more room in upper floors became a necessity. Somewhere in this time we begin to see the creation of skywalks or covered pathways between buildings. I could not find an exact date for when these appeared, but there’s evidence they existed in China in 220ce, so it’s not unreasonable for them to have made it to England within another 600-800 years. Again, while jettying was new, we also have mention of the Shambles in 937, a street in York that is famous for its tilted jettying. Most buildings in that picture are from 1300 onwards due to fires, but it’s not unreasonable to believe it could look similar.
Roofing will likely be almost entirely thatching, or made out of dried straw, reeds, etc over a timber frame. There is some evidence for use of wooden tiles, red roman tiles, turf, and timber as well for roofs, but vary in cost and abundance. Many depictions of medieval england use slate or shale shingles, which while possible would likely be anachronistic, as the first records of those don’t appear until the 1300s, more than the few years for other anachronistic changes.
Castles were still in very early stages in this period. The remains of the Roman Forts not picked apart had been used by royalty such as in Winchester and Canterbury, sometimes having a church built into them. The other type that may be linked to the smaller burhs are the aforementioned Motte and Bailey castles. These are very early castles that originated around the 8th-9th century in Carolingian France. In them, we have a protected area within an enclosure called the Bailey, and that included the only real way up to the often wooden watchtower or small 2-3 story keep. The motte was a large fortified hill that the tower sat upon. This provided a nice advantage and lookout for guards, while making it difficult to storm. These really did not reach England until about 1066 with the Norman Invasion, though even if we have an earlier setting, I can see a mild historical inaccuracy occurring to push these through, as French and English dynasties did get along and travel to each other on numerous occasions.
Overall, Anglo-Saxon Architecture was fairly basic work in the beginning of the period, creating square churches and houses from retrievable stone, timber, and mud. It does appear that the Carolingian Renaissance and frankish styles began spreading to England by the 8th century though, allowing for some larger buildings to exist. Make no mistake, stone work though will be fairly basic within the title, with the most elaborate stone work being window arches and a few stone carvings. Larger sprawling castles, complex stone churches with arches, and even brick based houses will not be in game. These advances were primarily coming from the gothic period and early Tudor dynasty which cemented the traditional fantasy medieval style in most people’s heads of churches like Notre Dame, 5 storied jettying houses with plaster filling and timber and brick frames, and massive stone castles with knights in plate armor.
Celtic lands consist of several major areas in the British Isles, now making up the countries of Ireland (and North Ireland), Isle of Man, Scotland, and Wales. The celts, while largely good stone workers, each had several unique flairs and differences across the lands due to different cultural influences.
Ireland is largely grasslands with a few major mountain ranges along the southern and northwestern coasts, as can be seen in this map. Within the inner part of Ireland and a few surrounding islands such as Mann and Skellig to as far away as Oakney, which were largely isolated from Britain became the home of the Celts, that - primarily in Ireland - lived in clusters of towns called Tuatha with a probable high king. More on his position later. In the neolithic through early medieval period we see the creation of stone huts called Beehive Huts. These may look familiar as the huts seen in Star Wars Force Awakens and Last Jedi which filmed on the Skellig Islands. The Tuatha meanwhile were a cluster of towns that each held 3000 people and 1000 large houses holding 30 people each. A good example of this is Rathcroghan. Smaller houses for single families could be seen too, and like the large houses were mostly circular wood and largely straw homes. Ireland was far less wooded than Britain, forcing the settlements to rely on wood, stone, and straw far more. Vikings began to settle in Ireland though, creating the first real large cities of Ireland by founding Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, and Limerick which were used as ports and easy staging areas for future raids, especially to Britain.
Unfortunately Wales history has been extremely hard to research and understand the architecture of this mountainous and rugged country. Many fires and revolutions during the high middle ages destroyed the history, leaving behind stone castles built post Norman Invasion and records of political turmoil in the early kingdoms of Wales (more on that later). It’s highly suspected that despite the Celtic Influence from Ireland, the Britons of Wales, especially in the northern Gwynedd, had architecture similar to the Frankish and English. The city I can find the most on that definitely existed in this era was Bangor, which is one of the oldest Welsh cities overall. It seems there were Roman Forts at modern Newport and Cardiff, but the extent of the settlement there post Rome is unknown. Vikings did settle the town of Swansea as well in the early 1000s, but other than that held no permanent residence in Wales due to the Welsh Kingdoms power.
Scotland during its early years was made up of a few separate kingdoms which started to become United under Alba by the Viking Era. The records of many of the country’s cities were actually hill forts nestled into the rocky, mountainous, and ravenous terrain of the region that include Craig Phadrig, Aberdeen, Dunadd, Dumbarton Rock, Edinburgh, and Scone. What wasn’t Roman Fortress was largely low lying single story wattle and daub houses with timber frames, wooden churches, and a few stone beehive huts, most of which was described to blend into the hills.
Scandinavia contrasts heavily with medieval England though. Rather than being a single large Island or collection of isles, Scandinavia describes modern Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. To make it simpler, I’m going to break it up into Viking and NonViking Scandinavia, which was predominantly based on how far north the vikings went.
Viking Scandinavia is primarily Southern Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Norway is a very mountainous and hilly region creating massive and beautiful Fjords or inlets with high cliffs. Sweden is on the east side of the mountains being mildly lower but hilly and mountainous nonetheless. Both are mostly covered in a Boreal Forest, or a subarctic Taiga, a forest that is characterized by evergreens in a very cold climate, with tall but skinny trunks and wide but thin branches. This contrasts from the deciduous forests native to England and most of Europe including Denmark, the southernmost part of Scandinavia that’s a low lying peninsula known as the Jutland Peninsula with a collection of several large islands known as the Danish Archipelago.
The Jutland was home to three of the largest trading hubs in the Viking world, being Aarhus, Ribe, and the largest of Hedeby which contained about 1000 people. Most of the largest cities in Scandinavia were not founded until after the viking era was over, but several major cities weren’t far from them. The religious city of Uppsala and the nearby town of Birka were relatively close to modern Stockholm in Sweden and Roskilde near modern Copenhagen. Oslo (or Anslo as it was called) was founded around 1040, meaning it could appear in the title. Kaupung and Trondheim were larger hubs in Norway, with Trondheim towards northern Norway along the coast of the Norwegian Sea. Reykjavik and a few other towns were founded in Iceland in 874, so it’s not impossible to see them too.
There are many contemporary and modern sources on viking architecture, and while it was almost entirely wood and mud, I do want to discuss some common themes I’ve seen doing research into Viking Architecture styles. To begin with, some commonalities are that viking villages are generally flat with low single story buildings and wide streets. Ubisoft’s last foray into the viking era with For Honor had shown off a viking village with the opposite though, being taller 2-3 story houses, narrow paths on a hill. While undoubtedly visually pleasing, it’s certainly inaccurate. As we see from the potentially leaked concept art for Ragnarok, Bay 09 includes a sprawling viking city on a mountain side overlooking a Fjord, with high towers, multiple story buildings, and even a bridge with houses built onto it. Again it’s visually appealing, and would likely work well with parkour despite being on a more fantastical side of what we ought to see. The other big commonality is that most viking villages had a sizeable mead hall that was used for town religious and political purposes, often being a timber longhouse.
While most viking houses were wooden and had straw and mud roofs, it appears that some commonalities were more based on region. This bit is speculation, as I’ve had difficulty verify the veracity and historical accuracy of this architectural style, but based on the aforementioned concept art, it’s not unlikely to be seeing a more mythicized version of the world, meaning a few historical discrepancies are likely. From what I’ve seen, these largely wooden and more ornate buildings, despite being 1-1.5 stories were more commonly associated with Norway. I’d speculate that more mountainous terrain could make creating foundations for a house, especially longhouses, fairly difficult; thus forcing smaller and more stable homes to be designed out of primarily wood rather than earth works. Sweden, on the other hand would try to marry a larger footprint of longhouses such as in Denmark while being ornate and suited to the terrain, creating wood, straw, and mud houses that may have been similar to this. Denmark would largely focus on larger footprints using primarily longhouses within their city’s defenses, which likely owed to creating some of the larger cities of the viking era like Hedeby. During Harald Bluetooth’s reign and even as late as Cnut the Great, the Viking Ring Fortress became popular, especially in Denmark and Sweden, comprising of several longhouses and smaller houses in squares surrounded by a large earth wall, created by digging a trench along the outside of the desired hill. During construction the hill, 4 wooden passageways were left through the hill, with dirt and sod packed on top and to the sides, allowing people to freely move in and out of the fortress. The hill was then fortified with large timber siding on both the inside and outside, while allowing people from the inside easy access to the top of the hill, which now acted as a wall.
Iceland greatly differs from these areas though, with a far harsher environment. About 50% of iceland is covered in rough rocky volcanic lava deserts and glacial wastelands in a region called the Highlands. The rest of iceland is rocky and mountainous grassland surrounded by massive Fjords. While there were numerous viking settlements throughout the island, the largest and one of the first was the now-capital-city of Reykjavik. Unlike traditional viking settlements though, many homes were timber built but completely covered in mud and sod. This was to keep the heat trapped in the home due to the harsher environment, creating settlements that may have looked a bit like this.
Northern Scandinavia was left largely uninhabited by the vikings, having small tribes of the Lapps and Sami people control the regions, especially in what’s modern Finland. The farthest north of this area was of course marked by the arctic circle and boreal forest while the west was more mountains and forest from Norway and Sweden. Finland, though, has a massive area known as central lake plateau, which is a plateau in the center of the country that is full of lakes, swamps, and boreal forest. Going farther south to the Baltic coast will be met with a large swamp and “Archipelago Sea”. The Sami and Lapps never contained large amounts of wealth or large cities, creating only small settlements of Mud and Wooden huts, not dissimilar from American Indian Tipis.
Frankish territory extended far past modern France, making up modern France, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and a few other countries in what was the Holy Roman Empire. Prior to the viking age, the empire collapsed and eventually split into several regions marked on the map, more on the politics of this later. Seeing all of the Frankish Kingdoms is pretty unlikely, as is seeing any of them in the main game in my opinion, but they do hold some of the richest lands and cities in the Early Medieval Period in Europe.
The vast majority of this region is open grasslands, soft rolling fields, and forests scattered throughout the areas labeled as Brittany, West Francia, Normandy, Lotharingia, and Saxony. Frisia and part of northern Saxony were large swamp lands. Angers, Tours, and Orleans are the southernmost cities in western Francia and near the border of Brittany. Rouen was just inside the Duchy of Normandy, with Paris along the same river not far outside the borders. Frisia’s largest city was Utrecht, with many modern towns like Amsterdam only existing as fishing villages if at all. In Saxony and Lotharingia we’d see larger cities of Hamburg and Frankfurt. While the exact populations of many cities are unknown, by 1050 Cologne had around 21,000 people and Paris had 25,000 by 800, far more than any English city.
Just to the east we have the regions of Pomerania and Lusatia, both regional names for kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia along with groups of people living in what’s now modern Poland. The northern area of Pomerania is a fairly flat and grassy area known as the Polish Plain, contrasted with the southern portion that has steeper rolling hills. Wolin was a major stopping and trading hub for Vikings, and likely related to the potentially mythical city of Jomsborg. To the south three major cities existed along separate riverways that fed back into the Baltic: Poznan, Prague, and Krakow.
Most of these areas had a very distinct architectural style known as Preromanesque, which as it sounds came before the architectural style Romanesque. The Merovingian Dynasty from the 5th century to 751 is what really inspired this architectural choice, which then split into 2 similar but different styles of Carolingian and Ottonian, after rulers in Carolingian Dynasty and King Otto. An example of the Preromaneque Architecture would be Charlemange’s Palace, which upon observation has clear Roman influence due to presence of arches and round structures, but overall left a fairly flat facade. This Carolingian Monastery has fairly few discernable differences to this Ottonian church in Frankfurt. We do see a large emphasis on the interior beauty though, as evidenced by this carolingian church. By the 11th century we start to see a shift towards being larger and more ornate buildings such as this church, which has an obvious emphasis on the facade. While this is the era in which castles and keeps started to be made, most buildings would not be above 3 stories, and real castles wouldn’t be built until after the Norman Invasions of William the Conqueror. For now, we’d likely just see more Motte and Bailey castles.
That primarily covers the big landmarks made by and for the kings and religious. Peasants, however, did not have such luxuries, often living in the stone houses left behind by the romans in these cities and forts. As the cities grew, due to walls existing, much like England, it became common (even earlier too) to start building up by using wattle and daub, stripping the stone as needed, though France (at least with the rich) had far less of an issue with acquiring stonework. Paris was subjected to multiple raids, though two really stood out and were encapsulated in art that can help show what the city may have looked like at the time. The first was in 845 at the hands of Ragnar Lothbrok, and as we can see, it had a decent sized Carolingian Palace in Ile de la Cite (please note that the larger cathedral attached to the palace and Conciergerie weren’t built until the 13th century, but the section with the lower roofs were updated around 800), juxtaposed by the Preromanesque churches and Roman Ruins on the outskirts. By 885, however, Rollo had to face walls on the other side of the bridges, helping defend the outer city more. The TV show Vikings actually did cover this as well, seemingly combining the two sieges and adding a more anachronistic flare such as the taller roofs on the towers and greatly exaggerating the size of everything, despite Paris definitely being more built up than English cities. It would not be unlikely to see cities largely built up as the classic fantasy medieval cities, though with mildly less stone and no bricks; not dissimilar to this (https://www.turbosquid.com/3d-models/medieval-port-3d-1144332). Even in that we see the Carolingian church rather than a larger gothic one, which is an important thing to remember for the early medieval period.
Kievan Rus was the most different to any region discussed so far. Like other Northern European areas, it’s largely plains, a few rolling hills, and mountains to the southwest of the region in what is now mostly Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. I do include the modern Baltic States in the map of Kievan Rus territory though due to the area being primarily inhabited by small tribes, Slavs, and often being used as a hub for piracy and trade by the Varangians that inhabited Kievan Rus.
I want to discuss this group of people later, but their land was very important, being the easiest way for vikings to trade with people from Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East, as the Varangians controlled every major trade route in Eastern Europe from the Black to Baltic Sea.
This lead to what would be the most interesting architecture in the title though, as despite likely having roots from vikings, eventually turned to Eastern Orthodoxy based on Byzantine tradition, and developed the architecture as such. By about 1000ce, the capital of Kiev was decorated with large wooden and stone monuments with exotic and ornate domes inherent to the Byzantine Structure. Kiev, while the capital was one of the 3 major cities in the region, with the other 2 being Polotsk in the north west, and the original capital of Novgorad in the north.
TL;DR: There were several distinct regions and architectural styles in the early medieval era, ranging from the viking single story houses and longhouses, to multi story compact cities made of wattle and daub and timber frames which could be surrounded by large stone churches, juxtaposed by the exotic domes of the eastern Rus.
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Rugby World Cup 2015

Rugby World Cup, England 2015 - 18th September to 31st October

Okay dudes, dudettes!
It's been a 4 year wait. The 6 Nations may have earned the title of Rugby's Greatest Championship, but this is certainly the biggest. I've done this for the 6 Nations, I've done this for The Rugby Championship - This thread is staying up top for the duration for the tournament and it's going to include everything anybody needs to follow or catch up with the 8th Rugby World Cup.
I've said this the last two times, if you have anything you feel might be suited to get posted here, by all means link me. I'll be posting as much as I can, updating it as often as I can (more so than the last two), and making it as useful as I can. Match Threads, highlights, full match replays, fantasy leagues, whatever. Everything is below that stupidly (or brilliantly) long list of upcoming Test matches.

Pools

18/9 - England vs Fiji (Twickenham, 20:00) A Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
19/9 - Tonga vs Georgia (Kingsholm, 12:00) C Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
Ireland vs Canada (Millennium Stadium, 14:30) D Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
South Africa vs Japan (Brighton Community Stadium, 16:45) B Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - First half, Second half
France vs Italy (Twickenham, 20:00) D Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
20/9 - Samoa vs USA (Brighton, 12:00) B Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
Wales vs Uruguay (Millennium, 14:30) A Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
New Zealand vs Argentina (Wembley Stadium, 16.45) C Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
23/9 - Scotland vs Japan (Kingsholm, 14:30) B Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
Australia vs Fiji (Millennium, 16:45) A Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
France vs Romania (Olympic Park, 2:00) D Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
24/9 - New Zealand vs Namibia (Olympic Park, 20:00) C Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
25/9 - Argentina vs Georgia (Kingsholm, 16:45) C Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
26/9 - Italy vs Canada (Elland Road, 14:30) D Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
South Africa vs Samoa (Villa Park, 16:45) B Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
England vs Wales (Twickenham, 20:00) A Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
27/9 - Australia vs Uruguay (Villa Park, 12:00) A Match Thread - Highlights, Full Match - Full Match
Scotland vs USA (Elland Road, 14:00) B Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
Ireland vs Romania (Wembley, 16:45) D Match Thread - Highlights
29/9 - Tonga vs Namibia (Sandy Park, 16:45) C Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
1/10 - Wales vs Fiji (Millennium, 16:45) A Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
France vs Canada (Stadium MK, 20:00) D Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
2/10 - New Zealand vs Georgia (Millennium, 20:00) C Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
3/10 - Samoa vs Japan (Stadium MK, 14:30) B Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
South Africa vs Scotland (St.James' Park, 16:45) B Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
England vs Australia (Twickenham, 20:00) A Match Thread - Highlights, Extended - Full Match
4/10 - Argentina vs Tonga (Leicester City, 14:30) C Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
Ireland vs Italy (Olympic Park, 16:45) D Match Thread - Highlights - [Full Match]()
6/10 - Canada vs Romania (Leicester City, 16:45) D Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
Fiji vs Uruguay (Stadium MK, 20:00) A Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
7/10 - South Africa vs USA (Olympic Park, 16:45) B Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
Namibia vs Georgia (Sandy Park, 20:00) C Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
9/10 - New Zealand vs Tonga (St. James' Park, 20:00) C Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
10/10 - Samoa vs Scotland (St. James' Park, 14:30) B Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
Australia vs Wales (Twickenham, 16:45) A Match Thread - Highlights - Full Match
England vs Uruguay (Etihad Stadium, 20:00) A Match Thread - Highlights - [Full Match]()
11/10 - Argentina vs Namibia (Leicester City, 12:00) C Match Thread - Highlights - [Full Match]()
Italy vs Romania (Sandy Park, 14:30) D Match Thread - Highlights - [Full Match]()
France vs Ireland (Millennium, 16:45) D Match Thread - Highlights - [Full Match]()
USA vs Japan (Kingsholm, 20:00) B Match Thread - Highlights - [Full Match]()

Finals

17/10 - South Africa vs Wales (Twickenham, 16:00) QF1 B1/A2 Match Thread -
New Zealand vs France (Millennium, 20:00) QF2 C1/D2 Match Thread -
18/10 - Ireland vs Argentina (Millennium, 13:00) QF3 D1/C2 Match Thread -
Australia vs Scotland (Twickenham, 16:00) QF4 A1/B2 Match Thread -
24/10 - South Africa vs New Zealand (Twickenham, 16:00) SF1 Match Thread -
25/10 - Argentina vs Australia (Twickenham, 16:00) SF2 Match Thread -
30/10 - South Africa vs Argentina (Olympic Park, 20:00) BF Match Thread -
31/10 - New Zealand vs Australia (Twickenham, 16:00) Final Match Thread -
Useful links
What channel? - Who has broadcasting rights for the RWC in your country? If you are as yet unawares, this page should be exceptionally handy to. It'll also be linked in every Match Thread, along with /rugbystreams.
Kick-off - I'm sure the more astute of the foreign rugby fans (and even some of the home crowd) would have worked out that the only times I've listed are in BST (or GMT after 25/10). Luckily for all of you, BryceLawrence has got you all covered. In this thread you will find linked an app that tells you what time, in your time-zone, every match is being played at.
Fantasy Rugby - Last time around I listed the individual leagues that were running with participation of members here. There were three of them. HMFCalltheway has gone a bit further and done it for me, and collected half a dozen right here.
Keeping track - A few users have done a lot of work to make it easier, and more colourful, to keep track of what's going on throughout this tournament. rob_ob not only created these wall charts. Above and beyond that, he's also created an interactive web app. Here you can play around and find out how all teams have fared over the previous 7 World Cups. And better than that, here you can simulate the results of every pool game this Rugby World Cup, keeping track of scores and points and progression. any_names_left has created some wall charts of his own, even including specific ones for different time zones.
Drinking Game - Unofficial (are they ever not), provided by someone called @RuckedOver on twitter, the first (of many?) drinking game can be found here
Flair Bets - I have, since my first loss, decided that I dislike betting flairs against the rugby. After said loss, I'd come to realise that they just all about suck, because with the sole exception of charredcheese, I get confused over member's allegiance because they lost a silly bet. All that said, go nuts, flair bet thread can be found here.
Charitable Bets - I tried bringing this up before, but I don't know how successful it was in the past. If you're interested in betting more than just flair, perhaps contributing to a good cause or two, head over to /CharitableBets.
Related linksish
Team Previews - Also courtesy of linebreakrugby, there are previews for each team (that I believe are now all finished) in Pool A, Pool B, Pool C and Pool D. felixjmorgan, TnaG67 and Cpt-No-Dick Have done some even more in depth reviews for Wales, Ireland and New Zealand.
Personal projects - These are both a number of months old now, the first is still on going, the second faltered but has a future. If you feel like throwing a ball around, and passing it between friends? Take a video of each pass, send it here. I'd hoped this next one would be a roaring success and be ready to be posted before this World Cup, but it didn't and we only got one submission. Granted, it was a bit of a downer, but World In Union isn't likely to stop being rugby's unofficial anthem any time soon. So, to anyone who might have an interest in taking part in the song, please visit my old thread here for details.
/rugbyunion - This thread may sticky and un-sticky over the next couple of weeks unless something more important comes along. All points contained therein still stand though. If you've not read it over the week that it's been up, give it a browse - especially for information regarding streams and spoilers.

IRB Rugby World Cup

*I believe from 2019 on it will be the World Rugby Rugby World Cup
Last thing, sorry for the ridiculous length of this title post, if I could hide sections of it I would.
submitted by WallopyJoe to rugbyunion [link] [comments]

The American/Canadian second division, the North American Soccer League, kicks off in two days. Here's my preview for those who want to learn a little more.

Whether you knew it or not, the North American Soccer League (NASL), America's second division, is kicking off in two days' time. There's been a whirlwind of activity in the preseason, with new teams coming in, broadcast deals being signed, and recognizable players joining up. I'm someone who follows the league pretty closely, and while I'm certainly not an expert analyst, I've taken some time to put together a capsule for each club competing to provide a brief introduction to the league.
With that said, a quick overview of the NASL and its structure: The NASL is the second tier of U.S./Canadian soccer, having formed in 2011 after breaking away from the USL First Division. It is in no way connected to MLS. Twelve teams will compete in 2016 across two seasons - Spring and Fall. The Spring Season, being previewed here, consists of 10 games and will only feature 11 teams (Puerto Rico FC enters in the Fall). The Fall Season starts in July and will consist of 22 games. At the conclusion of the Fall Season, four teams - the Spring and Fall Season winners, along with the two remaining teams with the best overall records - will enter the Championship playoffs for a chance to win the Soccer Bowl Trophy.
For a short recap on last season, you could watch my attempt at making a season review video. Oh, and be sure to check out /NASLSoccer! I'm over there a lot, and it's a good place to learn more.
Got it? Alright, let’s get started.
Team Name: Carolina RailHawks
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Manager: Colin Clarke
Stadium: WakeMed Soccer Park
History: Founded in 2006, Carolina was one of the breakaway members from the USL First Division that formed the NASL. The team's name is mean to represent both the rail lines that run directly across from the field and the hawks that are indigenous to the area. The RailHawks play their home games at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. In 2015, the RailHawks' owners, Traffic Sports, were indicted in a FIFA corruption scandal, leading to the sale of the club to local tech entrepreneur Stephen Malik.
2015 In Review: Carolina got off to a promising start in the spring, taking 14 points from 10 games and winning a 3rd place finish in the standings. Led by the creativity in the midfield of club legend Tiyi Shipalane and the goals up front from former Rangers striker Nacho Novo, the RailHawks picked up some good results at the beginning of the Fall Season as well. From that point, though, the wheels came off, particularly in road matches. Out of 10 away matches in the Fall, Carolina took just a single point. In the end, the result was 7th place in the Fall, and 6th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: The RailHawks marked their 10th anniversary in style off the field, inking a local TV deal, making stadium upgrades, and promising higher investment in the club. They doubled down on their commitment by re-signing club captain Connor Tobin as well as key players Tiyi Shipalane and Nazmi Albadawi. Then, they cleaned up by signing several high-level players, such as NASL Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, and former RailHawks Matt Watson and Akira Fitzgerald, who had most recently spent time in MLS. Carolina are the perfect example of a revamped and growing NASL: They've found a new owner who is excited and willing to spend, and they've invested all around the club and have reloaded their roster. Expect the RailHawks to challenge from right out of the gate in 2016.
Key Players: Ty Shipalane, MF; Connor Tobin, MF; Nazmi Albadawi, MF
One to Watch: Marvin Ceballos, MF. The Guatemalan international has been described as a "natural #10" by manager Colin Clarke and has the potential to be a breakout star for Carolina this year.
Predicted Finish: 4th. I think they fly under the radar as a well put-together team, and pressure from FIFA scandal gone. This prediction could blow up in my face.
Team Name: FC Edmonton
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Manager: Colin Miller
Stadium: Clarke Stadium
History: Edmonton is a growing team, having only formed in 2010, just in time for the first NASL season. The Eddies are slight rivals with Minnesota United, participating in the Flyover Cup and raising money for charities together. Edmonton is currently the furthest west of all NASL teams, and has struggled with attendance figures as well as play on the field. Their best season finish was 5th place, and the closest they've been to a championship was the league's quarterfinals in its first year of existence.
2015 In Review: Despite progress made in 2014, things turned south for the league's northernmost club in the Spring Season of 2015. Two wins meant a 10th place finish out of 11. The Eddies' relief came in the form of a Canadian Championship cup run, in which they came inches away from defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the semifinal, only to be knocked out by a goal in the last seconds of stoppage time. In the fall, results picked up for Edmonton. Lance Laing marked his record third appearance in the league's Best XI with eight goals and seven assists throughout the Spring and Fall Seasons, but the team suffered when he was on international duty with Jamaica. The team's playoff hopes fell away during the final five games of the season, during which they found only one point. FC Edmonton finished 5th in the Fall and 7th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: Edmonton would seem to be in a spot of trouble. Over the offseason, winger Lance Laing, who put the Eddies on his back at times, left to join Minnesota United. So, FC Edmonton made some changes. In the front office, they added Jay Ball as general manager; Ball played a significant role in the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. On the field, they brought back Daryl Fordyce, the club's all-time leading scorer, and made a splash by signing Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood from Germany. Manager Colin Miller called it the most promising offseason in club history, and proceeded to sign the Senegalese center back Papé Diakité and Jake Keegan, 2nd-top scorer in the League of Ireland last season. With the roster set, Edmonton toured Great Britain, showing well in several friendly across the pond. With a lackluster history and a star player missing, Edmonton will look to defy the odds in 2016.
Key Players: Albert Watson, DF; Daryl Fordyce, FW; Nik Ledgerwood, DF/MF
One to Watch: Allan Zebie, MF. An FC Edmonton youth product and Canada youth international, Zebie, only 22, has established himself as the Eddies' regular right back. This year, he could move to a whole new level.
Predicted Finish: 6th. Laing is gone, but most of the roster returns, aided by savvy signings.
Team Name: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Manager: Caio Zanardi
Stadium: Lockhart Stadium
History: As one of the members of the original NASL, the Strikers have a history dating back to 1977. The team signed some of the world's finest players, including Gordon Banks, George Best, and Gerd Müller. After moving to Minnesota, a second Strikers team popped up in Fort Lauderdale in 1988, playing for six years in the American Soccer League (ASL) and the American Professional Soccer League (APSL). The current incarnation, founded in 2006 as Miami FC, rebranded into the Strikers before the first season of the new NASL. In 2014, after a loss in the NASL final, the club made international headlines when Brazilian legend Ronaldo joined their ownership group. In 2015, the low-budget club shocked the league by once again making the playoffs.
2015 In Review: Following the Spring Season, there weren't many optimists left in the Strikers camp. After dumping most of 2014's star players (Fafà Picault, their star player, went to Europe; Pecka moved to Real Salt Lake), the firing of head coach Günter Kronsteiner, and the flop of much-hyped signing Leo Moura, Fort Lauderdale limped to an 8th place finish in the Spring. The Fall was a different story. After re-signing Kronsteiner, a young Strikers team turned it all around. Fluminense loanees Marlon Freitas and Stefano Pinho shined, with Pinho topping the NASL scoring charts and winning the league MVP award. James Marcelin joined Pinho in the league's Best XI, and midfielder PC just missed out. The Strikers finished 4th in the Fall, and a win against Jacksonville on the last day propelled them to 4th in the overall standings as well, giving them a semifinals spot. The fairy tale ended in New York, with the Cosmos coming from behind to win 2-1 en route to the NASL Championship game.
2016 Preview: For the past two years, Fort Lauderdale has been the surprise team of the league. This year, the rest of the NASL will be as prepared as they can, but the Strikers still present a bit of a mystery. After squeezing into the playoffs in 2015, the team once again dismantled its roster, letting go of manager Günter Kronsteiner (again), watching the league's MVP and top scorer Stefano Pinho leave for Minnesota, and parting ways with Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, who signed with Carolina.
In response, Fort Lauderdale ramped up operations: They created a reserve team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), announced a whole wave of staff appointments, expanded partnerships and advertisements, got a TV deal, hosted an international tournament, and toured China. They also made some big-name signings, inking World Cup winner Kléberson, Brazilian veterans Adrianinho & Bruno Cardoso, U.S. youth internationals and UEFA Champions League-experienced players. And they unveiled their new jerseys on a yacht. Yeah, what can I say? The Strikers have big ambitions, and they've moved on from being a low-budget side that scraped past other teams. So will new investment bring more success? We'll have to see.
Key Players: Kléberson, MF; PC MF; Adrianinho, MF
One to Watch: Matheus Carvalho, FW. Carvalho has a solid pedigree, having played a few minutes for Monaco in last year's UEFA Champions League. It's possible he could be a welcome surprise in South Florida.
Predicted Finish: 7th. So much change on this roster, and several star players past their primes.
Team Name: Indy Eleven
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Manager: Tim Hankinson
Stadium: Carroll Stadium
History: After years of calls for a professional soccer team in Indianapolis from the Brickyard Battalion (the Eleven's main supporter group), the dream was finally realized in 2013. That year, legendary American soccer executive Peter Wilt announced that he would become the president of Indy Eleven, a team that started play in 2014. Despite struggles on the field, Indy Eleven became the first American soccer team to sell out all its home games in its inaugural home season. Wilt left on good terms in 2016 to pursue a Chicago NASL project.
2015 In Review: After a disappointing first year on the field, things didn't get much better in 2015 for Indy Eleven, though they did once again lead the league in attendance. Star player Kléberson picked up a season-ending achilles injury, and the Eleven won only one in their first eight matches. That record, combined with an embarrassing U.S. Open Cup defeat at home to USL's Louisville City FC, led to the firing of head coach Juergen Sommer. His replacement, interim coach Tim Regan, won the final two games to elevate Indy to 5th in the Spring. However, any playoff aspirations fell away in the Fall, as a string of bad results climaxed with a 7-1 loss in Fort Lauderdale en route to a 9th place finish in the Fall Season and combined standings. Indy could find a silver lining with the strong performances of several youngsters, such as Dylan Mares and Duke Lacroix.
2016 Preview: With one of the largest fanbases in the league and some of the worst performances, Indy are under pressure to finally turn around its performance. To start, they stripped down most of the team to just a couple of players, and hired long-time manager Tim Hankinson to construct a rebuild. Hankinson piled on MLS experience, inking Jon Busch, Siniša Ubiparipović, Justin Braun, Lovel Palmer, and Gorka Larrea, among others. Preseason did not go well, with most friendlies ending in defeat or stalemate to lower-division and university teams, and several players picking up injuries. That said, this Eleven squad is better than any other that has taken the field, and have a good mix of senior players and up-and-comers that are ready to deliver.
Key Players: Dylan Mares, MF; Brad Ring, MF; Siniša Ubiparipović, MF
One to Watch: Duke Lacroix, FW. It's time to meet the 22-year-old forward every soccer fan in Indianapolis is talking about. Lacroix got a chance last year, and electrified on the wing. This season, he'll hope to earn a starting job.
Predicted Finish: 8th. If one of the new central striker signings turns good, they'll have a real chance in this league. If not? Expect the same as before.
Team Name: Jacksonville Armada FC
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Manager: Tony Meola
Stadium: Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville
History: Announced on July 25, 2013, Jacksonville's team was christened as Armada FC on February 18, 2014. The Armada was the only expansion side to join the league in 2015, lead by the ownership collective Sunshine Soccer Group and club president Steve Livingstone. The team chose to play at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and quickly established themselves in the top tier of NASL attendances, although they didn't do as well on the field.
2015 In Review: Jacksonville got off to a fast start, with Jemal Johnson scoring seconds into their first game as the Armada went on to win three out of its first five. That was the best run of form the team would see all year. After finishing a respectable 6th in the Spring, the Armada fell into a slump, finishing last both in the Fall Season and combined table. The team fired its first manager, José Luis Villarreal, after attempting to give him a co-managerial role with Guillermo Hoyos. The club later fired Hoyos after giving him a contract through 2019 months earlier.
2016 Preview: The Armada began their offseason with a big statement of intention, hiring former USA goalkeeper Tony Meola as head coach. After an unsuccessful inaugural year, much of 2015's roster did not make it back. Instead, Jacksonville refined it by looking to the lower leagues. They signed NASL Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan, USL MVP Matt Fondy, and USL Defender of the Year Bryan Burke, in effect establishing a small collection of some of the best players below MLS last season. Just before the season began, the Armada suffered a blow as young standout Akeil Barrett transferred to the Swedish second division. Yet, after a preseason that included promising signings and friendlies, Jacksonville seem ready to move up the table.
Key Players: Alhassane Keita, FW; Mechak Jérôme, DF; Matt Fondy, FW
One to Watch: Charles Eloundou, FW. Once a highly-touted prospect, Eloundou, 21, saw his career stall with the Colorado Rapids (MLS). Now settled in Jacksonville, this year may be his opportunity to shine.
Predicted Finish: 9th. Good first steps, but still a lot to do after finishing bottom of the table last year.
Team Name: Miami FC
Location: Miami, Florida
Manager: Alessandro Nesta
Stadium: FIU Stadium
History: Unrelated to the original Miami FC (now the Fort Lauderdale Strikers), this team was founded in 2015 and kicked off in 2016. Miami attracted international attention with its ownership (entrepreneur Riccardo Silva and former Italy legend Paolo Maldini) as well as its first head coach (Maldini's Italy teammate Alessandro Nesta). The team began play at FIU Stadium.
2016 Preview: Expansion teams are often an enigma, and the organization of Miami FC is no different. Founded in the eye of a storm of MLS rumors (Miami Beckham United FC?), the brains behind Miami FC will likely want to get off to a running start in order to attract the sort of attention with soccer fans that can make them viable in the city and sustainable into the future. To that end, Miami brought in two star: Dario Cvitanich, who has scored goals and seen success with big clubs all over the world, and Wilson Palacios, the English Premier League veteran with nearly 100 Honduras caps under his belt. Mostly, though, the roster is filled out by players with NASL experience (Pablo Campos, Jaimé Chavez, etc.) and up-and-comers looking to make a name for themselves. In many ways, this is a similar approach that other past expansion teams have taken, with mixed results. The real question for 2016 might be just how well Miami FC establishes a fanbase in an unknown market.
Key Players: Wilson Palacios, MF; Darío Cvitanich, FW; Matuzalem, MF
One to Watch: Blake Smith, MF. Making his return to North American soccer after a year in hiatus, Smith is an unknown quantity. However, if he re-creates the kind of success he saw in Montreal and Indy, he could be a vital part of Miami's attack.
Predicted Finish: 11th. Similar construction as previous expansion teams may yield similar results.
Team Name: Minnesota United FC
Location: Blaine, Minnesota
Manager: Carl Craig
Stadium: National Sports Center
History: Professional soccer in Minnesota began with the Minnesota Kicks of the old NASL, but Minnesota has had a continuous presence of professional soccer since the founding of the Minnesota Thunder in 1990. When that team folded due to the financial shadiness of owner Dean Johnson, a new series of teams all slightly related to one another emerged. The NSC Minnesota Stars were launched in 2010, but the ownership of National Sports Center in Blaine, MN lasted only a season before the NASL took over the team. In 2011, the Stars won the Soccer Bowl for the first time in the new era of the NASL. In 2012, the team rebranded as Minnesota Stars FC and again went to the final, where they lost to Tampa Bay in penalties. The team was league-owned at the time and many fans and players thought that without a win in the final (thinking the league wouldn't dare let its champion fold), the team would no longer have a future. However, after the crushing loss, news began to leak out that the team had found an owner. In 2013, Dr. Bill McGuire (formerly of United Healthcare Group) purchased the Minnesota Stars and rebranded them as Minnesota United FC.
The team is supported by the Dark Clouds, a supporters group founded in the Thunder days. They are known for their bizarre brand of "Jackassery," which is ecstatic support that opposes macho, wannabe hooliganism. They have a gameday zine called the Jackassery Times-Heckler and worship the god DETHLOON. The club announced a move to Major League Soccer in 2017 or 2018, pending the construction of a downtown stadium.
2015 In Review: Buoyed off the field by an MLS expansion announcement, Minnesota continued to show stellar performances on it. Although star player Miguel Ibarra transferred to Mexican club Léon, replacements brought in (including Ibson and Khalif Alhassan) proved to be up to the challenge. A fourth place finish in the Spring was strong, if not ideal. In the Fall, an incredible run of eight wins in 10 matches led to a 2nd place finish. United were 3rd in the overall standings, and Christian Ramirez scored the second-most goals in the league, just missing a second consecutive Golden Boot. In their playoff semifinal in Ottawa, Ramirez's penalty gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead, but an equalizer and extra time winner from opposition forward Tom Heinemann led to an end to their season.
2016 Preview: This could be Minnesota's last year in the NASL, and they're offseason move show a determination to leave with a trophy in both hands. In preparation for the move to MLS, Manny Lagos (manager since 2010) became Sporting Director, and assistant Carl Craig moved up to become head coach. The team returns all four of its Best XI players from 2015: Justin Davis, Ibson, Christian Ramirez, and Kevin Venegas. It made further inroads by signing two other Best XI members: Lance Laing, who carried FC Edmonton and became a regular with Jamaica, and Stefano Pinho, who was named the league's best player and won the Golden Boot with Fort Lauderdale. Is there any stopping this team? Well, while United obviously has an unparalleled attack, there are questions on the defensive side, with the team having lost preseason games 0-4, 0-4, and 1-3 to MLS sides. If defense does not turn out to be a problem, though, this is a side that could really challenge for both the league title and a position deep in the U.S. Open Cup.
Key Players: Christian Ramirez, FW; Stefano Pinho, FW; Justin Davis, DF
One to Watch: Greg Jordan, MF. Minnesota are clearly looking for MLS-ready players this year, and Greg Jordan could be a sleeper pick to move up with them. Since falling out of favor in Philadelphia, he's had a dependable two seasons with the Loons, and will look to step up his game in 2016.
Predicted Finish: 3rd. May take some time for new players to settle, and who know how MLS move will divert their focus, but they'll be competitive no matter what.
Team Name: New York Cosmos
Location: Hempstead, New York
Manager: Giovanni Savarese
Stadium: Shuart Stadium
History: The New York Cosmos brand is one of the greatest in all of world soccer, and their teams in the original NASL were arguably better than any American sides that have come before or since. Centered around players like Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, and of course, the legendary Pelé, New York won five Soccer Bowls and became a global phenomenon. Since the team folded, there have been many attempts to revive it. This one is the first to get a real team on the field. The modern iteration of the Cosmos kicked off in the Fall Season of 2013, won the championship the same year, and won it again in 2015 with Real Madrid legend Raúl.
2015 In Review: After announcing the signing of illustrious Spanish forward Raúl, the Cosmos cemented their place as the biggest spenders with the biggest names in the NASL. 2015 marked the final seasons for Raúl and fellow former Spanish international Marcos Senna, and New York looked to send them off with a storybook ending. In the Spring Season, everything went to plan, with the Cosmos winning the title by a point and securing a playoff spot early. A high point came in the team's U.S. Open Cup victory over New York City FC on penalties, though they would later be knocked out by the New York Red Bulls. The Cosmos stayed strong in the Fall with a 3rd place finish, benefitting through performances from NASL Young Player of the Year Leo Fernandes (on loan from Philadelphia Union) and team MVP Ayoze. The Cosmos won the combined season with 56 points, edging Ottawa on goal differential. In the semifinal, the Cosmos came from behind to beat Fort Lauderdale 2-1. Hosting the Championship, relatively new signing Gastón Cellerino scored a hat trick in a 3-2 victory as Raúl and Senna lifted their final trophy.
2016 Preview: With the retirement of Raúl and Marcos Senna, the departure of star winger Walter Restrepo and formerly on-loan Leo Fernandes (both to Philadelphia), and the exit of championship hero Gastón Cellerino, this could have been a transition year for New York. But the New York Cosmos don't rebuild. They reload. This offseason, the Cosmos put together one of the most stunning collections of signings this league has ever seen. To recap: The two biggest names are Niko Kranjčar and Juan Arango, both vastly experienced players who have played at the very top of world soccer; senior internationals include Jairo Arrieta (Costa Rica), David Ochieng (Kenya), Michael Lahoud (Sierra Leone), Yohandry Orozco (Venezuela), and Yasmani Duk; other signings include Gabriel Farfan (MLS/Liga MX experience) and two U.S. youth internationals. On paper, it is hard to argue any team is better than the Cosmos. How the pieces of the puzzle come together is the only question left.
Key Players: Danny Szetela, MF; Niko Kranjčar, MF; Juan Arango, MF
One to Watch: Yohandry Orozco, MF. So, get this, right? There's player in his prime, who plays regularly for his country, had experience with Wolfsburg, and he's coming to the NASL? You'd better believe it, and Orozco has all the skills to make a huge impact.
Predicted Finish: 1st. I've been wrong before with this team, but there's just too much talent to deny.
Team Name: Ottawa Fury FC
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Manager: Paul Dalglish
Stadium: TD Place Stadium
History: A longtime candidate for expansion, Ottawa was welcomed into the league in 2011, with the Ottawa Fury name being decided in 2013. The Fury were a fromer PDL franchise, and brought a history of support with it. The club shares a new stadium (as well as ownership) with the Canadian Football League Ottawa RedBlacks. In 2015, the team surged to the Championship final, but lost to the New York Cosmos.
2015 In Review: Few would have predicted Ottawa Fury's run to the NASL Championship after the Fall Season. Despite making a splash by bringing in Canadian international Julian De Guzman, the results failed to come, and the Fury found themselves in 9th place. In the Fall, though, coach Marc Dos Santos' plan clicked. A back line marshaled by NASL Best XI goalkeeper Romuald Peiser and defender Rafael Alves recorded eight shutouts, and an offense led by the connection between midfielder Siniša Ubiparipović (eight assists total) and forward Tom Heinemann (12 goals total) resulted in one loss in 20 games, and a Fall Season title. Heinemann's two goals in the semifinal knocked out Minnesota United, but the Fury ultimately fell short of the Championship in New York, losing 3-2 to the New York Cosmos.
2016 Preview: After falling short in the Championship, the Ottawa Fury had the offseason from Hell. First, Manager of the Year Marc Dos Santos left to be an assistant and reserve team coach for Sporting Kansas City (MLS). Then, many of the key players in the run to the final chose to part ways: Tom Heinemann, who scored every playoff goal, went to Tampa Bay; Colin Falvey, Ryan Richter, and Mason Trafford, who all started on the back line in the Championship, moved on; Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan left for Jacksonvile, playmaker Siniša Ubiparipović went to Indy, and starting winger Andrew Wiedeman moved to Cinicinnati in USL. Reinforcements have come, mostly in the form of other lower league players, but almost all will have to prove themselves before being considered adequate replacements. If I have to pick one out, the signing to keep an eye on will be Marcel De Jong, the Canadian international brought in who should play as a left back. The Fury will also be bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Romuald Peiser, who won the league's Golden Glove in 2015 and was named /NASLSoccer's player of the year.
Key Players: Julian de Guzman, MF; Rafael Alves, DF; Romuald Peiser, GK
One to Watch: Mauro Eustáquio, MF. Last year, Eustáquio impressed in the midfield when filling in for injured players. With so many departures, the youngster now has a chance to play well and force his way onto the Canadian national team.
Predicted Finish: 10th. This team got completely picked apart in the offseason. They could turn out okay, but they'll have work to do to prove me wrong.
Team Name: Rayo OKC
Location: Yukon, Oklahoma
Manager: Alen Marcina
Stadium: Miller Stadium
History: A fierce battle between the NASL and USL PRO for a team in Oklahoma City ended with both leagues announcing expansions in the city. The USL put together Oklahoma Energy FC in 2013. Meanwhile, the owners of Oklahoma City FC, a Premier Development League (PDL) team, decided to run an NASL side, but an ownership group breakup in 2014 caused a delay to the project. Eventually, Spanish La Liga club Rayo Vallecano partnered with the organization to form what is now known as Rayo OKC. The team name was announced in November 2015, and began play at Miller Stadium in 2016.
**2016 Preview: As much of an enigma I've said Miami FC have been as an expansion team, it's safe to say Rayo OKC have been even more of a mystery. The organization was derided at first, dismissed due to the involvement from a struggling foreign team and its juxtaposition to the already-successful Energy. However, its initial roster has made fans sit up and take notice. Five World Cup veterans and nine national team players headline the squad, which includes illustrious Greek striker Georgios Samaras. Rayo has built its team using players with experience in European leagues (say, Yuma and Juanan) and players who have found success in MLS (Michel, Sebastian Velasquez) and the NASL (Billy Forbes, Erick Norales). Expansion teams typically take time to fare well, but if there's any that might have a chance at making a first impression by challenging for a title, this could be the one.
Key Players: Robbie Findley, FW; Derek Boateng, MF; Georgios Samaras, FW
One to Watch: Billy Forbes, FW. Over the past two years, Billy Forbes has become the breakout sensation of the league with the San Antonio Scorpions. With the Scorpions dissolving, Rayo OKC won their most prized asset in Forbes, who should certainly get a look-in from former San Antonio coach Alen Marcina.
Predicted Finish: 5th. So much talent, but need to build some chemistry and fan support.
Team Name: Tampa Bay Rowdies
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Manager: Stuart Campbell
Stadium: Al Lang Stadium
History: An original NASL team, the Rowdies won a championship in their first year (1975) and continued to impress until the league collapsed in 1985. The Rowdies kept playing in lower leagues until 1993. In 2008, the team was reborn again, with the vision of recreating its old glory days. However, because of legal problems, the team simply went by FC Tampa Bay until 2012, when the old moniker returned, along with a Soccer Bowl title won on penalties over Minnesota Stars FC. In 2014, the team was purchased by St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, who promised to take the Rowdies to the next level.
2015 In Review: Following a frustrating 2014 season, manager Ricky Hill got the boot, and the Rowdies began building a new roster with the prolific coach Thomas Rongen. Under Rongen, the ball started to roll, and the Rowdies finished 2nd in the Spring Season, just one point behind the New York Cosmos. In July, Tampa Bay made waves by signing former U.S. international Freddy Adu. However, the Fall Season got off to a rough start. After securing only seven points in eight games, Rowdies owner Bill Edwards fired Rongen and general manager Farrukh Quraishi. Under new manager Stuart Campbell, Tampa Bay fell further, eventually finishing 8th in the Fall and 5th overall, missing out on the playoffs by just two points.
2016 Preview: In the third year of the Bill Edwards era, Tampa Bay is under big pressure to finally make the playoffs. The Rowdies haven't been the loudest team in the offseason, and have perhaps been overshadowed by some of their neighbors in Florida, but the transition from 2015 to 2016 has been smooth. Key players were re-signed, including defensive rock Tamika Mkandawire, Freddy Adu, and 2014 MVP Georgi Hristov. They bet big on bringing in Tom Heinemann, the striker who lit Ottawa's season on fire in the second half of 2015. And they brought in a good collection of supplementary players, such as Neil Collins (200+ games in the English Football League), Danny Mwanga (100+ MLS games) and Eric Avila (170+ MLS games). The Rowdies toured England in the preseason, scoring some impressive results (a draw with Stoke City; a win over Notts County). After an offseason that was, for once, not quite tumultuous, it may be Tampa's time to shine in 2016.
Key Players: Georgi Hristov, FW; Tom Heinemann, FW; Freddy Adu, MF
One to Watch: Darwin Espinal, FW. Only 21, Espinal is already having an impact on Honduran youth national teams. He's got several good forwards to compete with on this roster, but he could well become one of the best.
Predicted Finish: 2nd. This could be the year it all comes together for the Rowdies.
Predicted Spring Standings:
Place Club
#1 New York Cosmos
#2 Tampa Bay Rowdies
#3 Minnesota United FC
#4 Carolina RailHawks
#5 Rayo OKC
#6 FC Edmonton
#7 Fort Lauderdale Strikers
#8 Indy Eleven
#9 Jacksonville Armada FC
#10 Ottawa Fury FC
#11 Miami FC
Opening Weekend Schedule:
Saturday, April 2
Time (ET) Home Away U.S. TV
3:00 CAR MNU ESPN3
7:00 FTL MIA beIN
7:30 TBR IND OWS
8:00 OKC FCE ESPN3
Sunday, April 3
Time (ET) Home Away TV
6:00 NYC OTT OWS
To follow all the excitement and keep up with the latest news this season, make sure to visit and subscribe to /NASLSoccer - the home of the NASL on reddit. Feel free to add any comments or questions below.
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A Hater's Guide to EURO Qualifying / 2018 Year in Review (insert Soccer flair here)

After a surprisingly decent start to the Nations League that saw some upsets and some decent football, another Euro qualification campaign awaits us. Teams are scrambling to achieve something before their generational talents depart and leave them rudderless. Managers are scrambling for decent results to avoid getting fired. UEFA is scrambling to get the populace to hate them even more with the Der Spiegel leaks......... and the bullshit that is their attempt at a UEFA Superleague, designed to kill those pesky irrelevant small-market teams and countries once and for all. Before international football takes a serious beating at the hands of leaks and Qatar 2022, lets take a look at the contestants.
This will be a little different from the standard Haters Guide, as I'll be breaking down the groups and major teams recent fortunes in light cliff notes form instead of going in full on everyone. Even if half the team previews would be some variation of "You're fucked", its still soul consuming to talk about a bunch of uninspiring Tier II or III Euro sides, even if they have a chance to go far because voodoo seeding magic. This will instead be an overview of the relevant teams and how they're looking so far. Lets get to it.
~~~
GROUP A: England, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Kosovo
~To the shock of all 55 million of their cynical supporters, England came through big in the Nations League groups with a pair of crucial wins at the end to secure a Final 4 berth. England's reward for such endeavours will probably be a torching from Portugal and another easy group to qualify for a tournament in. Over the next year and a bit, England's goal will be to shore up the defense, figure out how to make a functional midfield out of their varying pieces, and hope that the English media decides not to de-person Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. Gareth Southgate has done good in rallying the troops and clearly looks like the right man for the job........ which means he'll be sacked after a quarterfinal exit in Qatar because reasons. Hopefully Frank Lampard does a good enough job managing clubs to step right in. Either way England needs to retain someone who knows what went wrong with the "Golden Generation", instead of hiring a foreign mercenary who will fall into the same traps Sven and Capello fell into trying to bring the team together. A decisive and steady hand at the top who commands respect from the players and makes everyone know their role is what England needs to stabilize the Premiership egos. To be fair this team doesn't seem to have clashing personalities on the level of the 2000s, so maybe they can make this work. Maybe.
~As for the rest of this group...... eeeeech. I'm personally hoping Kosovo uses its credible league underdog upset powers to roll over everyone and finish second, but theres a lot of uninspiring dross here. The Czechs haven't been relevant since the early 2000s and need some generational talents to crop up to reach that peak again. Instead they get a midfield captain who plays in the MLS, I mean COME ON. At least get him somewhere more credible like the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday. Also Bulgaria's got nothing going on and Montenegro got the worst of the split from Serbia. England shouldn't blow this group, so lets hope for something positive from Kosovo and that a few players get jobs in the English leagues out of this.
~~~
GROUP B: Portugal, Ukraine, Serbia, Lithuania, Luxembourg
~So early in the preview we get the first reasonably tough group. Ukraine and Serbia may end up qualifying via Nations League anyways, but both teams should probably try to be safe rather than sorry. Serbia got refballed by the Swiss at the World Cup and there were rumours of FA interference in setting up the team. If their dumbass fans stay out of the teams way and don't dock them points though, they'll be a threat. The team looks flush with credible league players, especially in the midfield, and Aleksandar Mitrovic is a goal in 2 games striker up front for the NT. The main question mark is in goal if Vladimir Stojkovic retires soon, not to mention hes playing in a bad league and would be disqualified from future consideration anyways if Serbia had any depth at that position. Regardless, Serbia still looks like a sure bet to make it to Euros via either path but from there, who knows?
~As for Ukraine, things are........ a little more complicated. Shaktar Donetsk's weird Brazilian pipeline and finances gives their league a sexy surface gloss of credibility, but the NT and the country itself have seen big changes since the WC in 2010. The problem now is up front, where the options are veteran Turkish league journeymen, green youth, or hope the wingers Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka are around to do a thing. The latter one will work less due to Yarmolenko being out early on with an Achilles tear. If he comes back as a permanently lesser player things do not look good. The former national talisman in Andriy Shevchenko is doing the managing now, and needs to figure out a way to get this team some goals if the defense breaks down. There is some serious firepower in the other favourites, and Ukraine may struggle to keep pace. You also have a tough path for Nations League B with Edin Dzeko and Christian Eriksen lurking. Good luck.
~Portugal don't think we forgot about you! You still have FUCKING PEPE ON THE TEAMSHEET. AND HE WAS YOUR CAPTAIN AGAINST POLAND?!?! What was his locker room team talk like? Did he tell everyone to two foot the nearest player and then dive afterwards? You dropped Bruno Alves like a hot potato and even if Pepe somehow goes through some games without incidents, hes still 35. He won't be around for Qatar, and you need to start bringing in the younger players now to get them to gel. Also its worth noting that Ronaldo did not make a single appearance in the Nations League and is........ currently dealing with some messy sexual assault allegations...... hoo boy. You better hope Andre Silva keeps scoring at a 1 in 2 pace, otherwise you have no shot at a Euro repeat.
~~~
GROUP C: Netherlands, Germany, Northern Ireland, Estonia, Belarus
~Besides the Cleveland Cavaliers, did any team have a swifter fall from grace this year than the German NT? As if the brutal World Cup campaign and Mesut Ozil retiring to political posturing over Turkey wasn't bad enough, the team flamed out in the Nations League to a Dutch team deep in the rebuild, and still lack stability in the midfield and defense. Even with a soft group to likely qualify from, this team still needs to get its shit together to achieve anything in the coming tournaments. Like the Eagles, winning the big one may have been the worst thing to happen to the team for their short term future, and they may need the good ol' "culture change" to get back to normal contender status. I'm not sure we're ready for a footballing world with an underachieving German team, but it seems the rest of the countries who have been held back by the Germans are DEFINITELY ready for it. I don't have any grudge against Germany, but I will die laughing if this team drops points to Northern Ireland. Maybe THAT could get Joachim Low fired......
~Netherlands I don't know what the hell to make of you. I wanted to revisit that case in a couple of years and see if the Dutch could get things together with a new wave of talent, but then you caught France on the hop and Germany on a sustained hangover. Now you probably have a high seed for future events, and a soft group to make it back to the Euros with. I'm just not sold on Virgil Van Dijk and Memphis Depay as the core players. Depay in particular has been rumoured to have some attitude problems and inconsistency. Even if they were magnified in the harsh spotlight of the Premier League, and even if hes turning things around for Lyon, do you really build an attack around him? You've had success in the past building around tempermental talent, but I doubt anyone thinks hes at the level of a Van Basten or a Robben, let alone Cryuff. Theres at least some promise behind with guys like De Ligt, Kluivert, and maybe Fosu-Mensah and Frenkie de Jong, but this does not seem like peak Dutch vintage. At least you're better off than you were from 2015 to 2017?
~Much as I'd like Northern Ireland to pull off some upsets, it probably isn't happening. They took a beating in Nations League B and clearly can't hold superior sides off using the old-school defensive British Isles tactics. The strike force is Championship journeymen and a beat-up Kyle Lafferty, with no notable youth getting pushed forward by the team. Hope you enjoyed your cup of coffee with success in 2016 lads, now its back to complaining about other Ireland stealing your players.
~~~
GROUP D: Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland, Georgia, Gibraltar
~Meh, nothing to get excited about here. Swiss optimism is no doubt high after the shocking thrashing of Belgium in the Nations League to win their group. The issue is that Hans Serefovic may have gotten that hat trick against a defense too old and broken down to give a fuck, and you're still reliant on the Great Value version of generational talents in your midfield. Denmark should be right there with them based on the World Cup unless the strike flares up again, or something happens to Christian Eriksen or Kasper Schmeichel. But Jesus Christ Denmark do SOMETHING about that strike force.
~One thing does need to be said in this group however: Ireland is looking godawful. They beat Wales to get into a playoff for WC qualification then got blown out 4-1 in the Nations League. This has led to managers Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane being marched to the guillotine. The roster looks completely cooked and the scoring cupboard is bare once you take out Shane Long and Johnathan Walters......not that either player was good anyways. Even if Ireland slogs out a couple draws with Denmark, they're more liable to drop points to Georgia (which did happen in WC qualifying). Hell, Ireland could somehow struggle to break down Gibraltar for all we know.
~The sad part is this weaker group could end up getting two Nations League winners in the Swiss and Georgia and three qualifiers to the Euros. Yikes.
~~~
GROUP E: Croatia, Wales, Slovakia, Hungary, Azerbaijan
~Wales and Croatia may top the group in seeding but both teams are staring into the edge of the abyss. Croatia has already lost Mandzukic and Subasic, and the rest of the core is aged 29 or older. They need to strike now before they get too old for the World Cup. The Euros may be the last chance for Croatia to win something before they have to restart with a new core under bigger expectations. Hopefully the fans can cling to the memories of that magical 2018 run.......
~As for Wales, they face the unpleasant prospect of wasting their second generational talent in Gareth Bale. The 2018 WC qualification campaign was an absolute DISASTER for the Welsh, as they blew a winnable group to Serbia and Ireland.......... after drawing half their games and dropping points to fucking Austria and Georgia. Wales had a chance of sneaking into the World Cup and even making it to the Round of 16 with the right draw, but had to sit at home instead and watch England achieve their best result in over 25 years. The time is now to win before Bale gets too old and too destroyed by the Madrid media. You've got some young diamonds in the rough that need to gain experience quickly, some veteranosity at the backline, support in Aaron Ramsey, and a reasonably steady keeper in Wayne Hennessey. DON'T FUCK IT UP! Gareth Bale does NOT deserve to have the same international career as Ryan Giggs. (And yes Giggs did not deserve that either)
~But hey surely those Slovakia guys will steal a spot from you. Just look at all that talent! Marek Hamsik! Marek Hamsik! Marek Hamsik! Did we mention Marek Hamsik? And look at that awesome support he has........AN MLS MIDFIELDER AND A PAIR OF CYPRUS LEAGUE STRIKERS?!?! BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (Cue Simpsons you're stupid guy laughing)
(Did I forget about Hungary? I hope so.)
~~~
GROUP F: Spain, Sweden, Norway, Romania, Faroe Islands, Malta
~Meh, nothing much to get excited about here. Some Reddit pundits think theres a chance for Norway and Romania but I'm not buying it. Sweden has gotten a lot of credible wins over the past year and are also a bet to make it in via Nations League after a hiccup against Turkey to start. Emil Forsberg has not panned out for them and Marcus Berg may be lynched if he misses another sitter, but at least 20 fringe countries would kill to have Sweden's recent results. The steady Robin Olsen and the 8 men behind the ball troll tactics you had at the World Cup should see you through to the Euros and a Round of 16 elimination. Enjoy.
~As for Spain, they had a rough showing against Morocco and Russia in the World Cup and got bounced out by England in the Nations League, but things should pick up soon. That World Cup was a wash for Spain anyways due to all the managerial shenanigans and a poor tournament from David De Gea. Spain should be at least a fringe contender for another few years if this new core doesn't fall off a cliff.......... and if the FA and Spanish political landscape don't interfere with Luis Enrique doing his job. Good luck Luis. Don't let this second hot seat burn you to death.
~Hey by the way how did that Julen Lopetegui move to Real Madrid that got him fired from Spain work out anyways?
(Julen gets canned after 6 losses in 14 games)
OH GOD. Hope you had fun being burned at the stake Julen! Should've looked that gift horse in the mouth.............
~Also I'll sign off this group with a message to Romania: FUCK OFF WITH THE ULTRAS. You went down the racist Serbian route and had a few Nations League matches played behind closed doors with Carolina Hurricanes-level attendance. Keep this up and UEFA may take you for a spin on the wheel of discipline, and dock your dumb asses some points. Also do yourselves a favour and discover the next Gheorghie Hagi so you can rebuild your league and your national team already, that'll work too.
~~~
GROUP G: Poland, Austria, Israel, Slovenia, Macedonia, Latvia
~Wait, this can't be the actual group right? This is some seriously fake news. Lemme double check this......
refreshes Euro page
ARE YOU SHITTING ME!? YOU CALL THIS A GROUP!? What the FUCK!? Poland and Austria don't deserve their placement in the current pots, and they get gifted a sham group that will continue to inflate their rankings? Serbia is possibly better than BOTH these teams and they sit in Pot 3 with some no hopers and fringe contenders. I don't have any special dislike towards either country but COME ON! Israel, Slovenia, and maybe Macedonia, I don't care about you guys either, but just to normalize the seeding a little I hope you take some points from these guys, and show the world what a farce these qualification draws can be.
~Oh you want a preview? Fine, here it is: Lewandowski tries to create goal scoring opportunities with questionable support, and Austria coasts off maybe three relevant players to a Euro group stage drowning. Now lets move onto some actual contenders.
~~~
GROUP H: France, Iceland, Turkey, Albania, Moldova, Andorra
~..........Ok, this is better for talking points at least. This group is an interesting one for France, because it gives us a chance to see how bad the World Cup hangover really is. France has been on a rollercoaster of sorts since the heyday of Michel Platini, with some really great performances, followed by some really awful performances, followed by a rebound, then another crash, then a rebound again. France could've headed downhill after a decent showing in 2014 and 2016, but instead took the big step forward and won the World Cup. The Nations League could've been a second tournament win in as many years, but they bowed out in the group stages to the Dutch, of all teams. Now comes the test of their consistency against some middling competition. If the French keep an even keel through qualifying and play strongly at the Euros, then they've turned a corner. If they drop serious points and flame out.......well, imagine the shrill bitching Pogba and Griezmann recieve in the media when they do anything, then multiply it by the entire team. For those who don't want complacency or collapses you better pray that Kylian Mbappe keeps developing. (Also have fun with those PSG leaks.)
~Iceland, I have some bad news. That mild optimism I had in the Nations League preview? Yeah, turns out I wasn't informed that your new manager Erik Hamren is a total gas can who shouldn't have the job. Iceland's Golden Generation may be forcibly rusted, so I hope those passionate supporters of yours will be happy living off past upset glories. Best to turn your attention to the future and developing youth, because the present does not look good under current management.
~Turkey is in a weird state to me. It seems their national league has a similar sexy surface gloss of credibility like Ukraine, along with the same sort of issues underneath that gloss. Theres even turmoil within the country as a distraction, albeit of a slightly different kind to Ukraine's ongoing mess with Russia. Turkey hasn't really done a lot since the 3rd place in Euro 2008, and they don't seem to have a ton of new youth to lead the renaissance aside from maybe Cengiz Under, Zeki Celik, and probably some youngster in a Turkish league who'll need to transfer to progress his career. The current veterans don't seem to have that spark to propel the team further, and it showed a bit in the Nations League despite a mild upset over Sweden early on. Lets revisit this one in a few years.
~......What, you want me to talk about Albania cause of the credible league factor? Sorry, but any team who loses 4-0 to Scotland in a semi-serious contest isn't worth more than 3 sentences in a recap. Have fun getting more players poached due to nationality rules!
~~~
GROUP I: Belgium, Russia, Scotland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, San Marino
~Hey Belgium, thanks for that nice 5-2 loss to the Swiss that jinxed my Nations League predictions! Now I have to try to care about Switzerland in the Nations League Haters Guide. Really looking forward to that! I can sorta forgive a loss in the face of injuries to de Bruyne, Lukaku, and half the starting defense, that makes sense. But you beat these guys 2-1 at home and had a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes? How can you let yourselves down in a competition like this? HOW!? For the love of god, can you quit choking on the pre-game waffle brunch and DO SOMETHING with this core? Do you really want to supplement this awesome attack with Boyata and the other Lukaku holding the fort behind them in a few years? Just blow this group out and win the damn Euros already.
~Russia could have a chance to play spoiler again here. Russia fell a bit short against Sweden in the Nations League, but they have a certain grit and quality to the team as of late that makes them hard to pass on as an upset pick. If they keep a healthy midfield, find a replacement for Igor Akinfeev, and magic bullshit goals out of Artem Dzyuba and whoever the hell Russia's putting in the attack these days, they could make some noise in the Euros.
~Scotland may be getting a Legacy of Failure post if I ever find anyone to fact-check my ranting, and a blown qualification effort here followed by a loss of the Nations League could write yet another chapter in it. You have two goalkeepers over 35 and a sprinkling of Premiership players to complement the substandard domestic league offerings. You also have Johnny Russell getting 9 caps because.........I don't fucking know. Get him out of there and replace him with literally anyone else please. We have narratives to maintain, and we need as few people in the MLS as possible tarnishing this pristine stage of international football.
~~~
GROUP H: Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Greece, Armenia, Liechtenstein
~And here at the end we have one of the toughest groups in qualification. Thats tough for the viewer AND the teams involved. Italy vs Greece twice? Better plan your sleep patterns around that shit. Italy is in tough in this group, as the Mario Balotelli experiment may have been aborted early in the Nations League. For all the identity Italy has around defence, the fact \remains that they have never won things without high-end threat of some variety in the final third. Are you going to seriously trot out guys like Immobile and Insigne and call them your international standard attackers? They're like the guys you tack on a roster in FIFA Ultimate Team for the chemistry bonus. Still, even though you drew some of the stronger teams in each pot, you might come out of this ok. Luckily, you did avoid sides like Denmark and Sweden that have a higher chance of playing along with a 0-0 and forcing you to drop points. If you can retool in time for 2020 you may once again reach default contender status.
~Meanwhile, Bosnia is on one of the better runs of success in the history of their nation, taking advantage of a soft group draw in the Nations League to run wild and secure a place in the final 4. Austria and Northern Ireland are nothing special, but you at least got a platform for your generational talent Edin Dzeko to shine on, as he approaches his well-earned 100th cap. If you get the goalkeeper Begovic and the crucial midfield piece Miralem Pjanic back from injuries, you've got a solid shot at keeping form and getting a ticket to the Euros. Good luck against the Italians. May you be free from the permanent hell that is Slavic team inconsistency.
~Finland is being hyped up as having the best team they've had since the heyday or Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyppia. Looking at the roster though, I'm not buying it. Theres a couple useful pieces, and you've got a rock solid keeper in Lukas Hradecky, but I'm questioning the lack of players in credible leagues. Perhaps the roster adds up to more than the sum of its parts, perhaps there are players here who just haven't gotten the break, but am I really supposed to be inspired by your best striker being from Norwich City? Will Joel Pohjanpalo ever come back form that injury? Also why did you give 74 caps to players in that damn MLS again? Regardless, against a potentially toothless Italy you have a chance of scraping a couple draws, which means that the fixtures against Bosnia will likely determine the fate of this new wave team. Good luck.
~Greece is in a real state of flux at the moment. Last Euro qualification was a cataclyzmic failure that saw losses to the Faroe Islands and Claudio Ranieri being ran out of the country like a common pygmy. He then went on to win a Premiership title with Leicester City in one of the best moments in the history of sports just because. Greece has struggled over this past year with losses to Saudi Arabia, Estonia, and Hungary, not to mention a loss against their group rival Finland. The defense is still as obstinate as ever, but when it cracks Greece seems to struggle at chasing the game unless they get a good set piece or Kostas Mitroglou does a thing. 2004 Euros look like a wet dream that won't be seen again, but Greece does have the chance of stealing points against Italy and disrupting the table.
~Armenia has a discount generational talent in Henrikh Mkhitaryan......and no one else. You blew a major shot at success in the Nations League, so you need to hope the countries ahead of you shit the bed to improve your seeding for the World Cup. Have fun being near the cellar.
~~~
Thus ends this wall of text and another year of European footy! Now open wide and watch UEFA laugh in your faces!
submitted by StadiumGambler to UrinatingTree [link] [comments]

Stocks Slides As Trade Hopium Turns Into Hangover; Curve Inversion Accelerates

So much for the _trade truce_rally.
One day after it emerged that nobody in the Trump administration has any clue about what was actually agreed upon during Saturday's historic "dinner date" between Trump and Xi, Monday's market "sugar rush" hopium fizzled and as we previewed yesterday, has turned into a vicious hangover, with US equity futures dropping and European shares tracking declines in Asia despite a modest recovery from Chinese stocks into the close as investors curbed their enthusiasm over any breakthrough in the trade war.

S&P 500 futures indicated U.S. shares would give up much of their Monday’s gains at the New York open, while the Stoxx Europe 600 Index slipped led by the same automakers which surged yesterday on a Trump tweet about China dropping car tariffs, which has since been largely disproven.

Markets slumped across the globe, with world stocks knocked off a three-week high as a result of dashed hopes of a swift resolution in the US-China trade war after media appearances from Trump administration officials shed little light on the specifics of any Sino-American trade agreement, while growing fears the U.S economy could be headed for recession sooner than expected weighed on the dollar.
As Bloomberg notes, the optimism that drove Monday's gains quickly dissipated as investors scrambled to figure out exactly what, if anything, was agreed between the U.S. and China on trade at the weekend. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, dialed back expectations and added qualifiers when asked about the outcome of talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. China’s government did not help the mood as it was unable to formulate its response to the trade summit - three days after its conclusion - as senior officials are still out of the country with President Xi Jinping. China has said nothing about the commitment to remove car tariffs flagged by the U.S., nor did its statement mention the 90-day timeline for talks the Americans have specified.
Following declines on Asian bourses, where Japan’s Nikkei stock index closed 2.4% lower, even as shares in Shanghai and Hong Kong fared better, fluctuating before ending higher as the yuan climbed, the mood was somber in Europe with the wider blue chip index slipping 0.3 percent. Frankfurt’s DAX and Paris’ CAC 40 fell 0.6 percent while MSCI’s index of world stocks declined 0.1 percent.
"The initial relief rally was never going to last. Investors need more detail now in order for that risk on sentiment to survive,” said Jasper Lawler, head of research at London Capital Group. “So far that detail has not been coming through and investors have more questions than answers."
Adding to market woes, was an inversion of the short end of the U.S. yield curve which foreshadowed the end of the Federal Reserve’s tightening campaign and raised the specter of a possible U.S. recession. The curve between U.S. three-year and five-year and between two-year and five-year paper inverted on Monday - the first parts of the Treasury yield curve to invert since the financial crisis, excluding very short-dated debt; meanwhile the closely watched 2s10s just 13 basis points from inversion.

On Tuesday, the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes dropped as low as 2.94%, sliding below its 200DMA for the first time since September 2017.

“The focus is now shifting to the inverted U.S. bond yield curve which has negative connotations, while implying the U.S. economy is heading towards what was only a few weeks ago an improbable economic slowdown,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for APAC at Oanda. “Now, even recessionary fear is starting to raise its ugly head.”
German/U.S. yields moved in tandem, with curves bull flatten as the focus on curve inversion gains momentum. Long-dated Gilt yields drop 3bps, dragging peers lower, short dates underpinned by steady demand at the 2024 auction, although attention remains squarely on Brexit developments.
As yields dropped and the curve inverted, the USD weakened against all G-10 currencies, weakening 0.8% against the Japanese yen and fell more than 0.5% to its weakest level since September against the offshore Chinese yuan to 6.83 yuan, with the Bloomberg dollar index sliding back under 1,200...

... while the cable rallied back above 1.2800 after the European Court of Justice offers a non-binding opinion on the possibility of an Art. 50 reversal. This was a bounce back from two-month lows it hit in early trade against the dollar on concern about British parliamentary approval for a proposed Brexit deal. The pound last stood 0.7 percent firmer at $1.2814 while weakening 0.2 percent against the euro to 89.10 pence. The South African rand strengthened after a surprise GDP beat, putting in the best performance in EMFX. WTI crude pushes higher through $54, but knocked off best levels after Saudi Energy Min tempers hopes for an OPEC+ production cut
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell was scheduled to testify on Wednesday to a congressional Joint Economic Committee, but the hearing was postponed because of a national day of mourning for U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday.
Elsewhere oil continued to find support, and extended gains, adding to Monday’s 4 percent surge as investors bet a key OPEC meeting on Thursday could deliver supply cuts in the wake of moves by producers to address a supply glut that contributed to a 15% tumble in West Texas Intermediate prices last month. U.S. crude and Brent crude added 1.6 percent to $53.82 and $62.7 per barrel respectively. Later in the session oil pared some gains after Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih said it’s too early to say whether OPEC and its partners will cut production.
Gold hit a session high of USD 1238.83, reaching its highest value since the end of October, as the dollar continues to weaken on a decline in US yields following the positive G20 trade outcomes. Steel futures have hit a 7-month low as prices are pressured by the oversupplied market, this comes after the positive sentiment seen in base metals on Monday from US-China trade developments. Separately, palladium (+1.0%) hit a record high of USD 1221.95 earlier in the session.
On today's economic calendar, no major economic data are expected. AutoZone and Dollar General are among companies reporting earnings.
Market Snapshot
Top Overnight News from Bloomberg
Asian stocks traded mostly negative as the relief rally fizzled out in the region with investors quick to book their recent profits. ASX 200 (-1.0%) and Nikkei 225 (-2.4%) were lower from the open in which a pullback in consumer and energy stocks led the downside in Australia and with Japanese sentiment dampened by a firmer currency. An indecisive tone was seen in the Hang Seng (-0.5%) and Shanghai Comp. (-0.2%) amid a lack of fresh drivers and as participants await the next developments of the US-China trade saga with China reportedly considering possibilities of lowering US auto tariffs. In addition, US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was said to be hopeful for an agreement but warned tariffs will be implemented if a deal fails to materialize, while China reportedly censored a post by the US Embassy regarding the recent trade developments and tariff ceasefire which some have suggested could be a possible effort to avoid looking weak or that it gave in to US pressure. Finally, 10yr JGBs traded higher amid the risk averse tone and as they tracked the overnight gains in T-notes. This coincided with the US 10yr Treasury yield dropping below its 200DMA for the first time in around a year, while the US 2y10yr spread continued to narrow to its flattest in over a decade. Today also saw a 10yr auction from Japan, although there was a muted reaction as the auction bore mixed results.
Top Asian News - Foreigners Cut China Bond Holdings First Time Since Feb. 2017 - Sri Lanka Court Restrains Rajapaksa Acting as Prime Minister - China Announces New Punishments for Intellectual Property Theft - Rich Asians Are Crazy to Live in Shanghai, Luxury Index Shows
European equities have kicked the session off with modest losses (Eurostoxx 50 -0.5%) as markets take a breather from yesterday’s “trade truce” inspired gains. The CAC 40 (-0.6%) is showing some marginal underpeformance relative to its peers in what has been a difficult start to the week for French equities amid domestic protests over the weekend, albeit tensions might show some signs of abating following reports that the French PM is to halt the proposed fuel tax hike. Elsewhere, sectors are relatively mixed thus far with mild outperformance seen in energy names (in-fitting with price action in the complex). Consumer discretionary stocks are a clear underperformer with Volkswagen (-2.2%), Porsche (-2.0%) and BMW (-1.9%) all lower after German car registrations fell 10% Y/Y. Postal names are softer in Europe following a disappointing update from BPost (-20.4%) which has sent their shares to the foot of the Stoxx 600, dragging Post NL (-5.3%) and Deutsche Post (-1.7%) lower in sympathy. In terms of individual movers and shakers have predominantly been the result of broker moves with Rightmove (+1.8%), JC Decaux (-3.3%), BAE Systems (-4.9%) and Continental (-4.0%) all gaining traction as a result of rating action.
Top European News
In FX, DXY – On the backfoot again with the index retreating further from 97.000 to trip stops at 96.400 and register a fresh post-G20 low of 96.372. This against the backdrop of broad Dollar losses vs. its major counterpart and a sharp retreat in US Treasury yields with the long-end of the curve outperforming. EUR – Also benefitting from the Greenback’s misfortunes and hopes that Italy vs. EU fiscal friction may be resolved amidst latest reports that PM Conte will deliver another revised 2019 budget draft with deficit circa 2.0%. EUUSD back above 1.1400 (with 1.234bln option expiries between 1.1400-05) but just stopped short of a key Fib at 1.1424. JPY, GBP – Major G10 outperformers with cable briefly breaching yesterday’s high of 1.2825 (vs. intraday lows of 1.2720), absorbing offers around 1.2800-1.2820 on the way to a peak of 1.2839. The Pound may have derived support from another UK PMI beat (construction) having already gained impetus after the ECJ’s senior advisor stated that the UK can revoke Article 50 unilaterally (under certain conditions). The single currency vs. the pound holding just above 0.8900 vs. lows of 0.8890 with stops reported at 0.8950 (though some distance away). To the downside, 0.8861 is reported to be a support level. Elsewhere, the JPY is taking advantage of the ongoing buck decline and a marked downturn in risk sentiment after initial US-China truce euphoria, with USD/JPY taking out the Tenken line at 113.34, a Fib level at 113.17 and the 55DMA at 113.05 to hit a low of 112.75 (ahead of the psychological 112.50 and the 100-DMA at 112.25). EM –Turkish Lira remains pressured by the ongoing recovery in oil prices (large net importer). USD/TRY trading around 5.30 with concerns that the Central Bank may prematurely loosen policy (aided by the slowdown in CPI) also weighing on investors’ minds. However, the ZAR is the clear EM outperformer amid the latest SA GDP figures showing the country has recovered out of recession, while a rally gold (major producer) is also providing the Rand with impetus. Finally, CNY undergoes another day of strengthening in a continuation from the G20 momentum. USD/CNY trading comfortably below 6.8500 after the PBoC set the strongest Yuan fix since June last year.
In commodities, Brent (+2.2%) and WTI (+2.2%) have continued to rise on expectations for a cut at the upcoming OPEC+ meeting, with any cut likely to take into account the reduction to Canadian output which is also supporting oil prices. Prices came off highs after Saudi Energy Minister Al-Falih stated that it is premature to suggest that OPEC+ will reduce output at the meeting this week, in turn hinting division amongst OPEC members. Initial source reports suggest that OPEC+ are working towards a minimum output cut of 1.3mln BPD from the October levels. However, Russia’s position of a maximum output cut of 150k BPD is the main obstacle to this, as OPEC want a minimum cut of 250-350k BPD. With sources suggest that OPEC may delay cuts if Russia does not agree to a substantial output cut. Looking ahead we have API data later in the day, with expectations being that crude stocks fell by 2.25mln/bbl for the week; if expectations prove accurate this will be the first crude oil draw since mid-September. Additionally, the weekly EIA release has been pushed back to Thursday at 16:00 GMT, due to the national day of mourning for Former President George H.W. Bush. Gold hit a session high of USD 1238.83, reaching its highest value since the end of October, as the dollar continues to weaken on a decline in US yields following the positive G20 trade outcomes. Steel futures have hit a 7-month low as prices are pressured by the oversupplied market, this comes after the positive sentiment seen in base metals on Monday from US-China trade developments. Separately, palladium (+1.0%) hit a record high of USD 1221.95 earlier in the session.
Looking at the day ahead, it’s not the most exciting for data releases with the October budget balance for France and October PPI report for the Euro Area the only prints of note. There’s nothing of note in the US however we are due to hear from the Fed’s Williams this afternoon when he holds a press briefing at the NY Fed. BoE Governor Carney is also due to attend a hearing of the Treasury Committee on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
US Event Calendar
DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap
Also in credit we’ve just published our two monthly chartbooks. The PowerPoint based one on global credit trends including issuance, flows, performance and relval ( link ) and also the excel based US credit strategy one with everything you wanted to know about US credit in a spreadsheet including up to date fundamentals ( link ). Elsewhere in today’s PDF link we’ve updated our PMI vs equities analysis. It shows equities as ‘cheap’ at the moment to current activity levels. Click on the full link for this report at the top for more with the commentary below.
Bourses yesterday closed well off their early highs with the follow through from the trade ceasefire a little disappointing. This reversal has continued in Asia to a large degree with the Nikkei (-1.72%), Hang Seng (-0.52%) and Kospi (-0.95%) all lower alongside most markets while the Shanghai Comp (+0.04%) is flattish. 10yr USTs yields are 11bps lower than their peak yesterday at 2.939% (-3bps this morning) with the curve flattening further (see below). S&P 500 futures are down -0.58% as we type.
Notwithstanding these disappointments, the reality is that yesterday US stocks did continue on what was a strong rebound from last week. Indeed after taking into account the +1.09% jump yesterday the S&P 500 is now up +5.99% over the last six sessions which is the strongest such run since February 2016 and second strongest since 2011. Tech led the way yesterday with the NASDAQ rallying +1.51% and the NYSE FANG index returning +2.80%. This was after the STOXX 600 finished +1.03% in Europe and the DAX +1.85% - albeit with both also closing off the early session highs. It was a similarly strong day for credit with Euro and US high yield cash spreads tightening -6.5bps and -11.7bps respectively – the latter by the most in a month.
Despite the lack of follow through, there were some outsized winners. President Trump’s tweet about China agreeing to “reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the US” helped the S&P 500 autos sector to close +2.14% with Euro autos also surging +3.04%. In addition to that, we had the +4.30% jump for WTI oil (an extra +1% in Asia this morning) on the OPEC +/ Alberta production cuts stories we discussed yesterday. Markets are also digesting Qatar’s decision to exit OPEC from January 2019. Qatar has been a member since 1961 and while it’s not a huge volume contributor, the suggestion was that the country’s role as a diplomat had been significant. So a bit more uncertainty in the oil market. A reminder that the much anticipated OPEC meeting arrives Thursday/Friday.
Treasuries also reversed the post G-20 sell-off, which saw a +6.0bp climb this time yesterday result in a flat close. Two-year USTs did rise +3.5bps though leading to the 2s10s curve flattening to only 15bps (down to 13.5bps in Asia with 10yr another -3bps) and to the lowest in the current cycle. There was also some talk of 5 year notes inverting through both 3- and 2-year notes for the first time in this cycle as well. So the curve is getting very flat, especially at this point. As a reminder 2s10s has inverted ahead of all the last 9 recessions. The good news is we haven’t inverted yet and that the average time between the two is 16 months, with the quickest being 9 months. So we have some breathing space if history is your guide. The bad news is that we’re getting closer and closer and a circuit break to this flattening would be helpful to risk and the economy over the medium-term.
Several factors have combined to support the flattening move. The big rally in oil supported near-term inflation breakevens, with 2-year breakeven up +4.7bps and driving the entire move in nominal 2-year yields. Ten-year inflation breakevens were flat, explaining the flattening yield curve. WTI oil prices and 2-year breakevens have a high positive correlation of around 0.75. After both peaked on October 3, the former is down -30.5% and the latter has fallen by -57.0bps. At the long end, a steady flow of real money into Treasuries weighed on yields, possibly just due to rebalancing on the first day of the month after equities outperformed versus fixed income in November.
To a lesser extent, markets continued to focus on communications from Fed officials, though comments yesterday from Fed Board Members Clarida, Quarles, and Brainard broadly met expectations and confirmed the sentiment from Powell’s speech last week (note that Powell’s Wednesday congressional testimony has been cancelled and not yet rescheduled due to the President Bush’s funeral). They reiterated the recent emphasis on data dependency and described the economy as at or near full employment and inflation as at target.
Minneapolis Fed President Kashkari, a known dove who will be a voting member of the FOMC in 2019, departed somewhat from this assessment, saying that the economy “cannot be at maximum employment” if it continues to “create 200,000 jobs a month, month after month.”
In the US, the final manufacturing PMI was revised down 0.1pts to 55.3 however the more important ISM manufacturing printed at 59.3 (vs. 57.5 expected) and jumped 1.6pts from October. That’s still below the 61.3 high made back in August but was clearly reassuring in the face of some more mixed data of late. New orders (62.1 vs. 57.4 previously) and employment (58.4 vs. 56.8 previously) also lept higher, however the softer inflation story was maintained with prices paid falling over 10pts to 60.7 (vs. 70.0 expected). Some suggested that seasonals may have slightly distorted the decline. Another small negative was the fairly benign new export orders reading (52.2) which failed to climb from October.
Making less of a mark yesterday were the final global November manufacturing PMIs in Europe. Indeed the final Eurozone reading was revised up from the flash reading of 51.5 to 51.8 but was still the lowest since August 2016. That upward revision was helped by modest 0.2pts and 0.1pt upward revisions to Germany (to 51.8) and France (to 50.8), however these readings are also the lowest in 31 months and 26 months, respectively. Italy fell further below 50 to 48.6 and is now at a 47-month low, however, there was better news for Spain (52.6 and 3-month high) and Ireland (55.4 and 2-month high). Greece is even back to a 6-month high at 54.0, which means the 2.2pt differential over Germany is the highest based on data back to 2014. Meanwhile, there was a notable upward surprise in the UK (53.1 vs. 51.7 expected), a jump of 2pts from October and seemingly supported by domestic contracts picking up. In contrast, exports dropped for the second straight month with the report noting external weakness.
Outside of Europe, China catches the eye with the Shanghai Comp actually 27% ‘cheap’ compared to the implied PMI. Interestingly only the S&P 500 is pricing in an implied PMI above 50 with Europe in the 45-48 range and China 46.9. We try not to over-analyse these results, preferring to use them to look at more general levels of global undeover valuations. However, they do support our view that markets have probably got a bit too negative of late.
Over in Italy, two- and 10-year yields fell -17.4bps and -6.8bps yesterday as headlines suggested policymakers were receptive to less confrontational budget deficit targets. Prime Minister Conte is reportedly aiming to convince Salvini and Di Maio to shift the budget deficit from 2.4% to below 2.0%. The latest economic data (yesterday’s included), which has shown a marked slowdown in growth momentum amid the higher BTP yields, may be incentivising policymakers to back away from their more confrontational stance. However these were all headlines. There’s no firm evidence as yet that the deficit target will be markedly lower but the momentum seems to be moving in that direction. However last night Ansa reported Italian Premier Conte as saying that he is not trying to cut the budget deficit to below 2%.
Last night in the UK, Parliamentary Speaker Bercow granted an emergency debate to determine whether or not Prime Minister May is in contempt of Parliament over her refusal to release the government’s full legal advice about the proposed Withdrawal Agreement. The debate will take place when Parliament convenes this morning, and it currently looks likely that May will lose a vote, since lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed their interest to see the information.
As for the day ahead, it’s not the most exciting for data releases with the October budget balance for France and October PPI report for the Euro Area the only prints of note. There’s nothing of note in the US however we are due to hear from the Fed’s Williams this afternoon when he holds a press briefing at the NY Fed. BoE Governor Carney is also due to attend a hearing of the Treasury Committee on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
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TheMonsieur's SupercalifragilisticUpbiparipovic NASL Spring Season Preview

Whether you knew it or not, the North American Soccer League (NASL), America's second division, is kicking off in two days' time. There's been a whirlwind of activity in the preseason, with new teams coming in, broadcast deals being signed, and recognizable players joining up. As someone who follows the league pretty closely, I've taken up the task of putting together a brief capsule for each club competing.
With that said, a quick overview of the league and its structure: The NASL is the second tier of U.S./Canadian soccer, having formed in 2011 after breaking away from the USL First Division. It is in no way connected to MLS. Twelve teams will compete in 2016 across two seasons - Spring and Fall. The Spring Season, being previewed here, consists of 10 games and will only feature 11 teams (Puerto Rico FC enters in the Fall). The Fall Season starts in July and will consist of 22 games. At the conclusion of the Fall Season, four teams - the Spring and Fall Season winners, along with the two remaining teams with the best overall records - will enter the Championship playoffs for a chance to win the Soccer Bowl Trophy.
For a short recap on last season, you could watch my poor attempt at making a video. Oh, and be sure to check out /NASLSoccer! I'm over there a lot, and it's a good place to learn more. We'll even be revealing a redesign tomorrow night just in time for the season!
I'm not an expert analyst, but hopefully this can provide a good introduction for you to each team.
Got it? Alright, let’s get started.
Team Name: Carolina RailHawks
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Manager: Colin Clarke
Stadium: WakeMed Soccer Park
History: Founded in 2006, Carolina was one of the breakaway members from the USL First Division that formed the NASL. The team's name is mean to represent both the rail lines that run directly across from the field and the hawks that are indigenous to the area. The RailHawks play their home games at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. In 2015, the RailHawks' owners, Traffic Sports, were indicted in a FIFA corruption scandal, leading to the sale of the club to local tech entrepreneur Stephen Malik.
2015 In Review: Carolina got off to a promising start in the spring, taking 14 points from 10 games and winning a 3rd place finish in the standings. Led by the creativity in the midfield of club legend Tiyi Shipalane and the goals up front from former Rangers striker Nacho Novo, the RailHawks picked up some good results at the beginning of the Fall Season as well. From that point, though, the wheels came off, particularly in road matches. Out of 10 away matches in the Fall, Carolina took just a single point. In the end, the result was 7th place in the Fall, and 6th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: The RailHawks marked their 10th anniversary in style off the field, inking a local TV deal, making stadium upgrades, and promising higher investment in the club. They doubled down on their commitment by re-signing club captain Connor Tobin as well as key players Tiyi Shipalane and Nazmi Albadawi. Then, they cleaned up by signing several high-level players, such as NASL Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, and former RailHawks Matt Watson and Akira Fitzgerald, who had most recently spent time in MLS. Carolina are the perfect example of a revamped and growing NASL: They've found a new owner who is excited and willing to spend, and they've invested all around the club and have reloaded their roster. Expect the RailHawks to challenge from right out of the gate in 2016.
Key Players: Ty Shipalane, MF; Connor Tobin, MF; Nazmi Albadawi, MF
One to Watch: Marvin Ceballos, MF. The Guatemalan international has been described as a "natural #10" by manager Colin Clarke and has the potential to be a breakout star for Carolina this year.
Predicted Finish: 4th. I think they fly under the radar as a well put-together team, and pressure from FIFA scandal gone. This prediction could blow up in my face.
Team Name: FC Edmonton
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Manager: Colin Miller
Stadium: Clarke Stadium
History: Edmonton is a growing team, having only formed in 2010, just in time for the first NASL season. The Eddies are slight rivals with Minnesota United, participating in the Flyover Cup and raising money for charities together. Edmonton is currently the furthest west of all NASL teams, and has struggled with attendance figures as well as play on the field. Their best season finish was 5th place, and the closest they've been to a championship was the league's quarterfinals in its first year of existence.
2015 In Review: Despite progress made in 2014, things turned south for the league's northernmost club in the Spring Season of 2015. Two wins meant a 10th place finish out of 11. The Eddies' relief came in the form of a Canadian Championship cup run, in which they came inches away from defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the semifinal, only to be knocked out by a goal in the last seconds of stoppage time. In the fall, results picked up for Edmonton. Lance Laing marked his record third appearance in the league's Best XI with eight goals and seven assists throughout the Spring and Fall Seasons, but the team suffered when he was on international duty with Jamaica. The team's playoff hopes fell away during the final five games of the season, during which they found only one point. FC Edmonton finished 5th in the Fall and 7th in the combined table.
2016 Preview: Edmonton would seem to be in a spot of trouble. Over the offseason, winger Lance Laing, who put the Eddies on his back at times, left to join Minnesota United. So, FC Edmonton made some changes. In the front office, they added Jay Ball as general manager; Ball played a significant role in the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada. On the field, they brought back Daryl Fordyce, the club's all-time leading scorer, and made a splash by signing Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood from Germany. Manager Colin Miller called it the most promising offseason in club history, and proceeded to sign the Senegalese center back Papé Diakité and Jake Keegan, 2nd-top scorer in the League of Ireland last season. With the roster set, Edmonton toured Great Britain, showing well in several friendly across the pond. With a lackluster history and last year's star gone, Edmonton will look to defy the odds in 2016.
Key Players: Albert Watson, DF; Daryl Fordyce, FW; Nik Ledgerwood, DF/MF
One to Watch: Allan Zebie, MF. An FC Edmonton youth product and Canada youth international, Zebie, only 22, has established himself as the Eddies' regular right back. This year, he could move to a whole new level.
Predicted Finish: 6th. Laing is gone, but most of the roster returns, aided by savvy signings.
Team Name: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Manager: Caio Zanardi
Stadium: Lockhart Stadium
History: As one of the members of the original NASL, the Strikers have a history dating back to 1977. The team signed some of the world's finest players, including Gordon Banks, George Best, and Gerd Müller. After moving to Minnesota, a second Strikers team popped up in Fort Lauderdale in 1988, playing for six years in the American Soccer League (ASL) and the American Professional Soccer League (APSL). The current incarnation, founded in 2006 as Miami FC, rebranded into the Strikers before the first season of the new NASL. In 2014, after a loss in the NASL final, the club made international headlines when Brazilian legend Ronaldo joined their ownership group. In 2015, the low-budget club shocked the league by once again making the playoffs.
2015 In Review: Following the Spring Season, there weren't many optimists left in the Strikers camp. After dumping most of 2014's star players (Fafà Picault, their star player, went to Europe; Pecka moved to Real Salt Lake), the firing of head coach Günter Kronsteiner, and the flop of much-hyped signing Leo Moura, Fort Lauderdale limped to an 8th place finish in the Spring. The Fall was a different story. After re-signing Kronsteiner, a young Strikers team turned it all around. Fluminense loanees Marlon Freitas and Stefano Pinho shined, with Pinho topping the NASL scoring charts and winning the league MVP award. James Marcelin joined Pinho in the league's Best XI, and midfielder PC just missed out. The Strikers finished 4th in the Fall, and a win against Jacksonville on the last day propelled them to 4th in the overall standings as well, giving them a semifinals spot. The fairy tale ended in New York, with the Cosmos coming from behind to win 2-1 en route to the NASL Championship game.
2016 Preview: For the past two years, Fort Lauderdale has been the surprise team of the league. This year, the rest of the NASL will be as prepared as they can, but the Strikers still present a bit of a mystery. After squeezing into the playoffs in 2015, the team once again dismantled its roster, letting go of manager Günter Kronsteiner (again), watching the league's MVP and top scorer Stefano Pinho leave for Minnesota, and parting ways with Best XI midfielder James Marcelin, who signed with Carolina.
In response, Fort Lauderdale ramped up operations: They created a reserve team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), announced a whole wave of staff appointments, expanded partnerships and advertisements, got a TV deal, hosted an international tournament, and toured China. They also made some big-name signings, inking World Cup winner Kléberson, Brazilian veterans Adrianinho & Bruno Cardoso, U.S. youth internationals and UEFA Champions League-experienced players. And they unveiled their new jerseys on a yacht. Yeah, what can I say? The Strikers have big ambitions, and they've moved on from being a low-budget side that scraped past other teams. So will new investment bring more success? We'll have to see.
Key Players: Kléberson, MF; PC MF; Adrianinho, MF
One to Watch: Matheus Carvalho, FW. Carvalho has a solid pedigree, having played a few minutes for Monaco in last year's UEFA Champions League. It's possible he could be a welcome surprise in South Florida.
Predicted Finish: 7th. So much change on this roster, and several star players past their primes.
Team Name: Indy Eleven
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Manager: Tim Hankinson
Stadium: Carroll Stadium
History: After years of calls for a professional soccer team in Indianapolis from the Brickyard Battalion (the Eleven's main supporter group), the dream was finally realized in 2013. That year, legendary American soccer executive Peter Wilt announced that he would become the president of Indy Eleven, a team that started play in 2014. Despite struggles on the field, Indy Eleven became the first American soccer team to sell out all its home games in its inaugural home season. Wilt left on good terms in 2016 to pursue a Chicago NASL project.
2015 In Review: After a disappointing first year on the field, things didn't get much better in 2015 for Indy Eleven, though they did once again lead the league in attendance. Star player Kléberson picked up a season-ending achilles injury, and the Eleven won only one in their first eight matches. That record, combined with an embarrassing U.S. Open Cup defeat at home to USL's Louisville City FC, led to the firing of head coach Juergen Sommer. His replacement, interim coach Tim Regan, won the final two games to elevate Indy to 5th in the Spring. However, any playoff aspirations fell away in the Fall, as a string of bad results climaxed with a 7-1 loss in Fort Lauderdale en route to a 9th place finish in the Fall Season and combined standings. Indy could find a silver lining with the strong performances of several youngsters, such as Dylan Mares and Duke Lacroix.
2016 Preview: With one of the largest fanbases in the league and some of the worst performances, Indy are under pressure to finally turn around its performance. To start, they stripped down most of the team to just a couple of players, and hired long-time manager Tim Hankinson to construct a rebuild. Hankinson piled on MLS experience, inking Jon Busch, Siniša Ubiparipović, Justin Braun, Lovel Palmer, and Gorka Larrea, among others. Preseason did not go well, with most friendlies ending in defeat or stalemate to lower-division and university teams, and several players picking up injuries. That said, this Eleven squad is better than any other that has taken the field, and have a good mix of senior players and up-and-comers that are ready to deliver.
Key Players: Dylan Mares, MF; Brad Ring, MF; Siniša Ubiparipović, MF
One to Watch: Duke Lacroix, FW. It's time to meet the 22-year-old forward every soccer fan in Indianapolis is talking about. Lacroix got a chance last year, and electrified on the wing. This season, he'll hope to earn a starting job.
Predicted Finish: 8th. If one of the new central striker signings turns good, they'll have a real chance in this league. If not? Expect the same as before.
Team Name: Jacksonville Armada FC
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Manager: Tony Meola
Stadium: Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville
History: Announced on July 25, 2013, Jacksonville's team was christened as Armada FC on February 18, 2014. The Armada was the only expansion side to join the league in 2015, lead by the ownership collective Sunshine Soccer Group and club president Steve Livingstone. The team chose to play at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and quickly established themselves in the top tier of NASL attendances, although they didn't do as well on the field.
2015 In Review: Jacksonville got off to a fast start, with Jemal Johnson scoring seconds into their first game as the Armada went on to win three out of its first five. That was the best run of form the team would see all year. After finishing a respectable 6th in the Spring, the Armada fell into a slump, finishing last both in the Fall Season and combined table. The team fired its first manager, José Luis Villarreal, after attempting to give him a co-managerial role with Guillermo Hoyos. The club later fired Hoyos after giving him a contract through 2019 months earlier.
2016 Preview: The Armada began their offseason with a big statement of intention, hiring former USA goalkeeper Tony Meola as head coach. After an unsuccessful inaugural year, much of 2015's roster did not make it back. Instead, Jacksonville refined it by looking to the lower leagues. They signed NASL Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan, USL MVP Matt Fondy, and USL Defender of the Year Bryan Burke, in effect establishing a small collection of some of the best players below MLS last season. Just before the season began, the Armada suffered a blow as young standout Akeil Barrett transferred to the Swedish second division. Yet, after a preseason that included promising signings and friendlies, Jacksonville seem ready to move up the table.
Key Players: Alhassane Keita, FW; Mechak Jérôme, DF; Matt Fondy, FW
One to Watch: Charles Eloundou, FW. Once a highly-touted prospect, Eloundou, 21, saw his career stall with the Colorado Rapids (MLS). Now settled in Jacksonville, this year may be his opportunity to shine.
Predicted Finish: 9th. Good first steps, but still a lot to do after finishing bottom of the table last year.
Team Name: Miami FC
Location: Miami, Florida
Manager: Alessandro Nesta
Stadium: FIU Stadium
History: Unrelated to the original Miami FC (now the Fort Lauderdale Strikers), this team was founded in 2015 and kicked off in 2016. Miami attracted international attention with its ownership (entrepreneur Riccardo Silva and former Italy legend Paolo Maldini) as well as its first head coach (Maldini's Italy teammate Alessandro Nesta). The team began play at FIU Stadium.
2016 Preview: Expansion teams are often an enigma, and the organization of Miami FC is no different. Founded in the eye of a storm of MLS rumors (Miami Beckham United FC?), the brains behind Miami FC will likely want to get off to a running start in order to attract the sort of attention with soccer fans that can make them viable in the city and sustainable into the future. To that end, Miami brought in two star: Dario Cvitanich, who has scored goals and seen success with big clubs all over the world, and Wilson Palacios, the English Premier League veteran with nearly 100 Honduras caps under his belt. Mostly, though, the roster is filled out by players with NASL experience (Pablo Campos, Jaimé Chavez, etc.) and up-and-comers looking to make a name for themselves. In many ways, this is a similar approach that other past expansion teams have taken, with mixed results. The real question for 2016 might be just how well Miami FC establishes a fanbase in an unknown market.
Key Players: Wilson Palacios, MF; Darío Cvitanich, FW; Matuzalem, MF
One to Watch: Blake Smith, MF. Making his return to North American soccer after a year in hiatus, Smith is an unknown quantity. However, if he re-creates the kind of success he saw in Montreal and Indy, he could be a vital part of Miami's attack.
Predicted Finish: 11th. Similar construction as previous expansion teams may yield similar results.
Team Name: Minnesota United FC
Location: Blaine, Minnesota
Manager: Carl Craig
Stadium: National Sports Center
History: Professional soccer in Minnesota began with the Minnesota Kicks of the old NASL, but Minnesota has had a continuous presence of professional soccer since the founding of the Minnesota Thunder in 1990. When that team folded due to the financial shadiness of owner Dean Johnson, a new series of teams all slightly related to one another emerged. The NSC Minnesota Stars were launched in 2010, but the ownership of National Sports Center in Blaine, MN lasted only a season before the NASL took over the team. In 2011, the Stars won the Soccer Bowl for the first time in the new era of the NASL. In 2012, the team rebranded as Minnesota Stars FC and again went to the final, where they lost to Tampa Bay in penalties. The team was league-owned at the time and many fans and players thought that without a win in the final (thinking the league wouldn't dare let its champion fold), the team would no longer have a future. However, after the crushing loss, news began to leak out that the team had found an owner. In 2013, Dr. Bill McGuire (formerly of United Healthcare Group) purchased the Minnesota Stars and rebranded them as Minnesota United FC.
The team is supported by the Dark Clouds, a supporters group founded in the Thunder days. They are known for their bizarre brand of "Jackassery," which is ecstatic support that opposes macho, wannabe hooliganism. They have a gameday zine called the Jackassery Times-Heckler and worship the god DETHLOON. The club announced a move to Major League Soccer in 2017 or 2018, pending the construction of a downtown stadium.
2015 In Review: Buoyed off the field by an MLS expansion announcement, Minnesota continued to show stellar performances on it. Although star player Miguel Ibarra transferred to Mexican club Léon, replacements brought in (including Ibson and Khalif Alhassan) proved to be up to the challenge. A fourth place finish in the Spring was strong, if not ideal. In the Fall, an incredible run of eight wins in 10 matches led to a 2nd place finish. United were 3rd in the overall standings, and Christian Ramirez scored the second-most goals in the league, just missing a second consecutive Golden Boot. In their playoff semifinal in Ottawa, Ramirez's penalty gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead, but an equalizer and extra time winner from opposition forward Tom Heinemann led to an end to their season.
2016 Preview: This could be Minnesota's last year in the NASL, and they're offseason move show a determination to leave with a trophy in both hands. In preparation for the move to MLS, Manny Lagos (manager since 2010) became Sporting Director, and assistant Carl Craig moved up to become head coach. The team returns all four of its Best XI players from 2015: Justin Davis, Ibson, Christian Ramirez, and Kevin Venegas. It made further inroads by signing two other Best XI members: Lance Laing, who carried FC Edmonton and became a regular with Jamaica, and Stefano Pinho, who was named the league's best player and won the Golden Boot with Fort Lauderdale. Is there any stopping this team? Well, while United obviously has an unparalleled attack, there are questions on the defensive side, with the team having lost preseason games 0-4, 0-4, and 1-3 to MLS sides. If defense does not turn out to be a problem, though, this is a side that could really challenge for both the league title and a position deep in the U.S. Open Cup.
Key Players: Christian Ramirez, FW; Stefano Pinho, FW; Justin Davis, DF
One to Watch: Greg Jordan, MF. Minnesota are clearly looking for MLS-ready players this year, and Greg Jordan could be a sleeper pick to move up with them. Since falling out of favor in Philadelphia, he's had a dependable two seasons with the Loons, and will look to step up his game in 2016.
Predicted Finish: 3rd. May take some time for new players to settle, and who know how MLS move will divert their focus, but they'll be competitive no matter what.
Team Name: New York Cosmos
Location: Hempstead, New York
Manager: Giovanni Savarese
Stadium: Shuart Stadium
History: The New York Cosmos brand is one of the greatest in all of world soccer, and their teams in the original NASL were arguably better than any American sides that have come before or since. Centered around players like Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, and of course, the legendary Pelé, New York won five Soccer Bowls and became a global phenomenon. Since the team folded, there have been many attempts to revive it. This one is the first to get a real team on the field. The modern iteration of the Cosmos kicked off in the Fall Season of 2013, won the championship the same year, and won it again in 2015 with Real Madrid legend Raúl.
2015 In Review: After announcing the signing of illustrious Spanish forward Raúl, the Cosmos cemented their place as the biggest spenders with the biggest names in the NASL. 2015 marked the final seasons for Raúl and fellow former Spanish international Marcos Senna, and New York looked to send them off with a storybook ending. In the Spring Season, everything went to plan, with the Cosmos winning the title by a point and securing a playoff spot early. A high point came in the team's U.S. Open Cup victory over New York City FC on penalties, though they would later be knocked out by the New York Red Bulls. The Cosmos stayed strong in the Fall with a 3rd place finish, benefitting through performances from NASL Young Player of the Year Leo Fernandes (on loan from Philadelphia Union) and team MVP Ayoze. The Cosmos won the combined season with 56 points, edging Ottawa on goal differential. In the semifinal, the Cosmos came from behind to beat Fort Lauderdale 2-1. Hosting the Championship, relatively new signing Gastón Cellerino scored a hat trick in a 3-2 victory as Raúl and Senna lifted their final trophy.
2016 Preview: With the retirement of Raúl and Marcos Senna, the departure of star winger Walter Restrepo and formerly on-loan Leo Fernandes (both to Philadelphia), and the exit of championship hero Gastón Cellerino, this could have been a transition year for New York. But the New York Cosmos don't rebuild. They reload. This offseason, the Cosmos put together one of the most stunning collections of signings this league has ever seen. To recap: The two biggest names are Niko Kranjčar and Juan Arango, both vastly experienced players who have played at the very top of world soccer; senior internationals include Jairo Arrieta (Costa Rica), David Ochieng (Kenya), Michael Lahoud (Sierra Leone), Yohandry Orozco (Venezuela), and Yasmani Duk; other signings include Gabriel Farfan (MLS/Liga MX experience) and two U.S. youth internationals. On paper, it is hard to argue any team is better than the Cosmos. How the pieces of the puzzle come together is the only question left.
Key Players: Danny Szetela, MF; Niko Kranjčar, MF; Juan Arango, MF
One to Watch: Yohandry Orozco, MF. So, get this, right? There's player in his prime, who plays regularly for his country, had experience with Wolfsburg, and he's coming to the NASL? You'd better believe it, and Orozco has all the skills to make a huge impact.
Predicted Finish: 1st. I've been wrong before with this team, but there's just too much talent to deny.
Team Name: Ottawa Fury FC
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Manager: Paul Dalglish
Stadium: TD Place Stadium
History: A longtime candidate for expansion, Ottawa was welcomed into the league in 2011, with the Ottawa Fury name being decided in 2013. The Fury were a fromer PDL franchise, and brought a history of support with it. The club shares a new stadium (as well as ownership) with the Canadian Football League Ottawa RedBlacks. In 2015, the team surged to the Championship final, but lost to the New York Cosmos.
2015 In Review: Few would have predicted Ottawa Fury's run to the NASL Championship after the Fall Season. Despite making a splash by bringing in Canadian international Julian De Guzman, the results failed to come, and the Fury found themselves in 9th place. In the Fall, though, coach Marc Dos Santos' plan clicked. A back line marshaled by NASL Best XI goalkeeper Romuald Peiser and defender Rafael Alves recorded eight shutouts, and an offense led by the connection between midfielder Siniša Ubiparipović (eight assists total) and forward Tom Heinemann (12 goals total) resulted in one loss in 20 games, and a Fall Season title. Heinemann's two goals in the semifinal knocked out Minnesota United, but the Fury ultimately fell short of the Championship in New York, losing 3-2 to the New York Cosmos.
2016 Preview: After falling short in the Championship, the Ottawa Fury had the offseason from Hell. First, Manager of the Year Marc Dos Santos left to be an assistant and reserve team coach for Sporting Kansas City (MLS). Then, many of the key players in the run to the final chose to part ways: Tom Heinemann, who scored every playoff goal, went to Tampa Bay; Colin Falvey, Ryan Richter, and Mason Trafford, who all started on the back line in the Championship, moved on; Best XI midfielder Richie Ryan left for Jacksonvile, playmaker Siniša Ubiparipović went to Indy, and starting winger Andrew Wiedeman moved to Cinicinnati in USL. Reinforcements have come, mostly in the form of other lower league players, but almost all will have to prove themselves before being considered adequate replacements. If I have to pick one out, the signing to keep an eye on will be Marcel De Jong, the Canadian international brought in who should play as a left back. The Fury will also be bolstered by the return of goalkeeper Romuald Peiser, who won the league's Golden Glove in 2015 and was named /NASLSoccer's player of the year.
Key Players: Julian de Guzman, MF; Rafael Alves, DF; Romuald Peiser, GK
One to Watch: Mauro Eustáquio, MF. Last year, Eustáquio impressed in the midfield when filling in for injured players. With so many departures, the youngster now has a chance to play well and force his way onto the Canadian national team.
Predicted Finish: 10th. This team got completely picked apart in the offseason. They could turn out okay, but they'll have work to do to prove me wrong.
Team Name: Rayo OKC
Location: Yukon, Oklahoma
Manager: Alen Marcina
Stadium: Miller Stadium
History: A fierce battle between the NASL and USL PRO for a team in Oklahoma City ended with both leagues announcing expansions in the city. The USL put together Oklahoma Energy FC in 2013. Meanwhile, the owners of Oklahoma City FC, a Premier Development League (PDL) team, decided to run an NASL side, but an ownership group breakup in 2014 caused a delay to the project. Eventually, Spanish La Liga club Rayo Vallecano partnered with the organization to form what is now known as Rayo OKC. The team name was announced in November 2015, and began play at Miller Stadium in 2016.
**2016 Preview: As much of an enigma I've said Miami FC have been as an expansion team, it's safe to say Rayo OKC have been even more of a mystery. The organization was derided at first, dismissed due to the involvement from a struggling foreign team and its juxtaposition to the already-successful Energy. However, its initial roster has made fans sit up and take notice. Five World Cup veterans and nine national team players headline the squad, which includes illustrious Greek striker Georgios Samaras. Rayo has built its team using players with experience in European leagues (say, Yuma and Juanan) and players who have found success in MLS (Michel, Sebastian Velasquez) and the NASL (Billy Forbes, Erick Norales). Expansion teams typically take time to fare well, but if there's any that might have a chance at making a first impression by challenging for a title, this could be the one.
Key Players: Robbie Findley, FW; Derek Boateng, MF; Georgios Samaras, FW
One to Watch: Billy Forbes, FW. Over the past two years, Billy Forbes has become the breakout sensation of the league with the San Antonio Scorpions. With the Scorpions dissolving, Rayo OKC won their most prized asset in Forbes, who should certainly get a look-in from former San Antonio coach Alen Marcina.
Predicted Finish: 5th. So much talent, but need to build some chemistry and fan support.
Team Name: Tampa Bay Rowdies
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Manager: Stuart Campbell
Stadium: Al Lang Stadium
History: An original NASL team, the Rowdies won a championship in their first year (1975) and continued to impress until the league collapsed in 1985. The Rowdies kept playing in lower leagues until 1993. In 2008, the team was reborn again, with the vision of recreating its old glory days. However, because of legal problems, the team simply went by FC Tampa Bay until 2012, when the old moniker returned, along with a Soccer Bowl title won on penalties over Minnesota Stars FC. In 2014, the team was purchased by St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, who promised to take the Rowdies to the next level.
2015 In Review: Following a frustrating 2014 season, manager Ricky Hill got the boot, and the Rowdies began building a new roster with the prolific coach Thomas Rongen. Under Rongen, the ball started to roll, and the Rowdies finished 2nd in the Spring Season, just one point behind the New York Cosmos. In July, Tampa Bay made waves by signing former U.S. international Freddy Adu. However, the Fall Season got off to a rough start. After securing only seven points in eight games, Rowdies owner Bill Edwards fired Rongen and general manager Farrukh Quraishi. Under new manager Stuart Campbell, Tampa Bay fell further, eventually finishing 8th in the Fall and 5th overall, missing out on the playoffs by just two points.
2016 Preview: In the third year of the Bill Edwards era, Tampa Bay is under big pressure to finally make the playoffs. The Rowdies haven't been the loudest team in the offseason, and have perhaps been overshadowed by some of their neighbors in Florida, but the transition from 2015 to 2016 has been smooth. Key players were re-signed, including defensive rock Tamika Mkandawire, Freddy Adu, and 2014 MVP Georgi Hristov. They bet big on bringing in Tom Heinemann, the striker who lit Ottawa's season on fire in the second half of 2015. And they brought in a good collection of supplementary players, such as Neil Collins (200+ games in the English Football League), Danny Mwanga (100+ MLS games) and Eric Avila (170+ MLS games). The Rowdies toured England in the preseason, scoring some impressive results (a draw with Stoke City; a win over Notts County). After an offseason that was, for once, not quite tumultuous, it may be Tampa's time to shine in 2016.
Key Players: Georgi Hristov, FW; Tom Heinemann, FW; Freddy Adu, MF
One to Watch: Darwin Espinal, FW. Only 21, Espinal is already having an impact on Honduran youth national teams. He's got several good forwards to compete with on this roster, but he could well become one of the best.
Predicted Finish: 2nd. This could be the year it all comes together for the Rowdies.
Predicted Spring Standings:
Place Club
#1 New York Cosmos
#2 Tampa Bay Rowdies
#3 Minnesota United FC
#4 Carolina RailHawks
#5 Rayo OKC
#6 FC Edmonton
#7 Fort Lauderdale Strikers
#8 Indy Eleven
#9 Jacksonville Armada FC
#10 Ottawa Fury FC
#11 Miami FC
Opening Weekend Schedule:
Saturday, April 2
Time (ET) Home Away TV
3:00 CAR MNU
7:00 FTL MIA
7:30 TBR IND
8:00 OKC FCE
Sunday, April 3
Time (ET) Home Away TV
6:00 NYC OTT
To follow all the excitement and keep up with the latest news this season, make sure to visit and subscribe to /NASLSoccer - the home of the NASL on reddit.
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