The two teams that battled for the 2012 North American Soccer League (NASL) championship face tough rematches of last year’s semi finals when the 2013 NASL Spring Season kicks off on Saturday, April 6.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Minnesota Stars both open at home, but face a stiff test out of the blocks, coming face to face with the teams they edged out of the playoffs by a single goal.
The reigning NASL champion Rowdies return to the Al Lang Stadium venue where they won the 2012 Soccer Bowl on penalty kicks to take on the Carolina RailHawks, the 2011 regular season champion and fourth placed finisher last term. The Rowdies outlasted the RailHawks 5-4 on aggregate in the playoffs on their way to becoming crowned 2012 NASL champions.
Defeated Soccer Bowl finalist the Minnesota Stars welcomes the team that topped the 2012 standings the San Antonio Scorpions in another mouthwatering clash to open their season. Last year, following a goalless draw at NSC Stadium, the Stars won 2-1 in San Antonio, overcoming a halftime deficit to earn a place in the Soccer Bowl.
“I’m eager to watch the intriguing matchups unfold on opening weekend,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson. “I feel this is a schedule that will excite our fans because of the added pressure to win every game under the new format. 2013 will be a milestone year for the NASL and our teams and I can’t wait for it to kick off.”
Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill said: “Our great supporters can expect an exciting start to the season and we are delighted to host our opener at the Al Lang Stadium. If we can continue the consistency that the side maintained throughout last season, we will be in good shape to defend our title.”
Minnesota Stars head coach Manny Lagos is ready to face the challenge of the Scorpions and said: “To come out right away against the best team from last year’s regular season will be an exciting way for our fans and our players to get things started. We are excited for the challenge of the new split-season format.”
South Florida will host a soccer double-header on opening night as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers also play at home, with FC Edmonton the visitors. The Canadians begin with their longest road trek of the year, a 6,000-mile round trip, and open their campaign in Fort Lauderdale for the third year in a row. Last season at Lockhart Stadium an Andy Herron goal proved the difference in a 1-0 Strikers win, while Edmonton triumphed 2-1 in 2011.
The Atlanta Silverbacks have drawn the opening weekend bye and kickoff a week later, entertaining the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in their first home game on Saturday, April 13.
When the action resumes in week two, the newly christened Toyota Field home of the San Antonio Scorpions will open with a baptism of fire, as the hosts take on the reigning champion Rowdies in their first home game on April 13. The Scorpions finished two points ahead of Tampa Bay in the 2012 regular season standings, the difference effectively coming as a result of a 4-0 thrashing of the Rowdies in August.
Carolina also makes its home bow on April 13, as FC Edmonton visits, hoping to avenge a 3-2 loss suffered at WakeMed Soccer Park last season as the RailHawks grabbed two late goals to win.
As Canada’s lone NASL representative before Ottawa debuts in 2014, FC Edmonton opens the 2013 season facing three road games before staging a home opener against San Antonio on Sunday, April 28 at Clarke Stadium. New head coach Colin Miller’s team will then enjoy a three-game home stand punctuated by a bye week.
The seven NASL teams active for the 2013 Spring Season will play each other once at home and once on the road in a 42-game season between April 6 and July 4. The team that tops the standings at the summer break will qualify for the 2013 Soccer Bowl as the host team. The Soccer Bowl will be held the weekend of November 16/17 and the Spring champion will be joined by the Fall Season champion. The New York Cosmos and Puerto Rico Islanders are poised to return to NASL action when the Fall Season kicks off on August 3.
The one-month summer break will allow NASL teams to schedule exhibition games and occurs during the international transfer window that is open throughout much of Europe, Latin America and North America.