In what amounted to big news for the NASL, North America’s second division league, the league announced Wednesday that some of its matches will be televised live on BeIN Sports USA. The network, which also holds rights to La Liga, Serie A and Ligue One among other properties, will televise 34 matches during the 2016 season, beginning with the Spring portion of this year’s campaign on this coming Saturday, April 2, when last year’s playoff semi-finalists, the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers host the expansion Miami FC , who are coached by legendary Italian defender Alessandro Nesta.
The NASL also announced today that their agreement with the ESPN3 streaming service has been renewed, meaning that 104 NASL matches will be streamed live this season. Two matches with be streamed on Saturday — the Carolina RailHawks will host MLS-bound Minnesota United at 3:00 pm EDT and in the evening, another new addition to the NASL, Rayo Vayacano OKC will welcome FC Edmonton for a 8:00 pm EDT kickoff.
The NASL will have a Bundesliga flavor this season, with former Borussia Mönchengladbach star midfielder Juan Arango signing with the NY Cosmos. The Venezuelan international (127 caps) joined Gladbach from Spanish side CD Mallorca in 2009 and enjoyed five good seasons with the club, featuring in over 170 matches in all competitions. Known for his spotkick prowess, Arango totalled 31 goals for Die Fohlen while helping them earn European play for the 2012/2013 season. The 35 year-old played last season in Liga MX for Xolos de Tijuana, where he had seven goals in 27 matches.
Other NASL players this season with German football experience include
Yohandry Orozco (NY Cosmos) Arango’s fellow Venezuelan teammate (20 caps) featured in seven matches for VfL Wolfsburg between 2011 and 2013
Julian de Guzman (Ottawa Fury) The Toronto-born Canadian international (88 caps) played for then division 2 side 1. FC Saarbrücken, appearing in 21 matches between 2000-2002 before moving up to the Bundesliga with Hannover 96, where he played in over 80 matches. After stints in La Liga and MLS, de Guzman returned to Germany in 2012 for a season with Jahn Regensburg in Bundesliga 2. He joined the Fury last season.
Marcel de Jong (Ottawa Fury) The Ontario-born midfielder played for FC Augsburg, signing with the club in May, 2010 after beginning his professional career in the Netherlands after coming up in PSV’s youth system. DeJong appeared in 67 matches for the Bavarian side, helping them get promoted in his first season and helping them stay there. He left Germany for MLS side Sporting Kansas City in 2015 and has earned 44 international caps for Canada.
Daniel Fernandes (Rayo OKC) The Canadian-born goalkeeper started his career in the Porto youth system and got his start with the Jahn Regensburg reserves in 2003. After a long stint in Greece with PAOK, Fernandes was back in Germany with VfL Bochum when he signed with the North-Rhine Westphalia club in May, 2008 and was their starting GK during the 2008/2009 season in the Bundesliga, when the club finished 14th in the table. Fernandes lost his starting job the next season and was on loan to several Greek clubs before playing 14 matches last season in the NASL for the San Antonio Scorpions. The 32 year-old has been capped twice by Portugal. Rayo OKC teammate Derek Boateng is a well-travelled Ghanian international who played for 1.FC Koln in 2008/2009. Boateng played for Spanish side Eibar last year and has also earned a paycheck in Israel, England, Greece, Sweden and the Ukraine. A third Rayo OKC player, Spanish center back Juanan, 28, played 34 matches for Fortuna Düsseldorf. He came to Germany from Real Madrid Castilla (the Madristas reserve side) and made his German debut in July, 2011 against SC Paderborn 07.
Michael Langer (Tampa Bay Rowdies) The 31 year-old Austrian keeper came up in the VfB Stuttgart system and made his senior squad debut in March, 2007, as a replacement for Timo Hildebrand in Stuttgart’s last championship season. He moved on to SC Freiburg the following season, and has also played for FSV Frankfurt and SV Sandhausen mainly in the role of backup keeper, featuring in a total of 29 German matches between 2007 and 2014. Langer received more playing time at Tippeligaen side Vålerenga the last two seasons before joining Rayo OKC for their upcoming inaugural campaign.
Kristian Nicht (Minnesota United) The Jena native has been playing in the U.S. the since 2012, when he joined the USL Pro Rochester Rhinos. For the last two seasons, he’s been the starting keeper for the NASL’s Indy Eleven, a club that leads the NASL in attendance with crowds of 10,000 per home match and has a fan relationship with the club of its German sister city, 1.FC Köln. Before crossing the Atlantic, though, Nicht had a lengthy career of accomplishment in Germany, especially in Bundesliga 2. Nicht began his career in 2002 with Stuttgarter Kickers before joining 1.FC Nürnberg the next season. He didn’t appear for Der Club but his next move was very fruitful as he signed with Alemannia Aachen in 2004, spending 3 1/2 seasons with the club and earning Bundesliga 2 Keeper of the Year for his performance in 2006/2007, which helped Aachen gain promotion to the first division. Following a stint in Norway with Viking, Nicht returned to Germany in 2009 to play for Karlsruher SC.
Oddly, Nicht was also the starting GK for the Montreal Impact in the 2014/2015 CONCACAF Champions League Finals. Playing before a crowd of over 61,000 in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Nicht was in the Impacts’ starting lineup for the 2nd leg of the CL finals against legendary Mexican side Club America as the German was signed on a short-term loan by Montreal because their regular keeper, Evan Bush, was suspended and backup Erik Kronberg was already cup-tied by appearing in the CL series for Sporting KC. Coming into the match tied at 1-1 from the lst leg in Mexico City, Montreal scored an early goal while Nicht held off America for the first half. Montreal’s fairy tale evaporated, however, in the second half as Argentina-born striker Darío Benedetto equalized for the visitors five minutes after intermission and America scored four times to win its sixth CONCACAF club championship. Days later Nicht returned to Indy Eleven, one-half from helping Montreal to its first international trophy and a place in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Nikolas Ledgerwood (FC Edmonton) The 31 year-old Lethbridge, Alberta native is a Canadian international with a lengthy German resume. The versatile midfielder/defender signed with 1860 Munich in 2003 and made his Lions’ senior side debut after a loan period with Wacker Burghausen. In 2009 he moved on to FSV Frankfurt, and the next season was with SV Wehen Wiesbaden. He spent 2012/2013 in Sweden with Hammarby IF before returning to Germany with MSV Duisburg, and then Energie Cottbus. All total, Ledgerwood has featured in over 150 senior squad matches in Germany, mostly in the second division and earned 47 caps for Canada before joining the Eddies in the offseason. His 2016 teammate with FCE, Jason Plumhoff, is a Bavarian-born midfielder who played in the youth systems of both Bayern Munich and SpVgg Unterhaching while growing up. The 24 year-old played college ball at Philadelphia’s LaSalle University and made his professional debut with the Harrisburg City Islanders of USL PRO.
Pekka Lagerblom (Jacksonville Armada) The veteran midfielder began his professional career in his native Finland with FC Lahti in 2003 before embarking on a lengthy career in Germany. He signed with Werder Bremen in January, 2004 and played in 14 matches for Thomas Schaaf’s double-winning champions. After spending on loan with Der Club, Lagerblom spent the 2006/2007 with 1. FC Köln. He was a teammate of Minnesota United’s Kristian Nicht with Alemannia Aachen before spending the rest of his time in Germany with FSV Frankfurt, RB Leipzig and the Stuttgart reserve side, giving him a total of over 110 senior squad matches and another 30 with the VfB reserves. In 2013 he left Germany to play in Scandinavia, playing in both Norway and Sweden before his career came full-circle with a return to Lahti last year. This will be Lagerblom’s first season in the NASL.
The original NASL, which operated from 1968-1984, had its share of German stars, including Gerd Muller, the lethal striker of Bayern Munich who played with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers from 1979 to 1981 and Franz Beckenbauer, another all-time German and Bayern great who featured for the high-flying NY Cosmos from 1977-1980. In the reborn NASL, former Bundesliga players such as Raul, Marius Ebbers and Oka Nikolov have featured.
The NASL was reborn in 2009 and began as a USSF-sanctioned second division league in the 2011 season. The league includes eleven clubs, and plays a split season similar to that played in Mexico and many South and Central American leagues. The NY Cosmos, with the help of Raul, won the league’s 2015 championship. Two of the NASL’s former clubs, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, now play in the first-division MLS, joining that league as expansion teams after applying for inclusion and paying the accompanying expansion fees. Minnesota United has also been accepted by MLS and will compete in that league in the next year or two. A 12th NASL team, Puerto Rico FC, will begin play in the league’s 2016 Fall Season. The Puerto Rico franchise is owned by NBA star Carmelo Anthony.
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