Georgios Samaras

Photo by Mike Stobe/New York Cosmos/Getty Images

Chatting with NASL commissioner Bill Peterson as league kicks off sixth season on Saturday

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The North American Soccer League begins its sixth season on Saturday with new teams, big-name imports and plenty of momentum.

The lone Division II league in the American Soccer Pyramid — USL Pro has applied for D-II status but is currently third — the NASL now boasts more than 55 players from 27 countries with appearances on the international stage, including Greece national team striker Georgios Samaras and Premier League veteran Niko Kranjcar of Croatia.

[ MORE: NASL announces San Francisco Deltas ]

With new teams starting play in Oklahoma City and Miami, and two more announced in Puerto Rico and San Francisco, PST caught up with NASL commissioner Bill Peterson to talk about what’s next in the league.

Rangers' Carlos Bocanegra challenges Celtic's Georgios Samaras during their Scottish Premier League 'Old Firm' derby soccer match
Samaras playing for Celtic in the Old Firm Derby. He will suit up for Rayo OKC this season in the NASL (Reuters)
You have three new teams starting play in 2016, and they’ve made some interesting roster moves. What’s your take on the new boys?
“What I’m most excited about is the approach on the field. Miami and Oklahoma City very quickly ramped up with their coaching and technical sides. They’ve gone after very high-caliber players. I believe that they are going to hit the ground and be pretty competitive. That’s a little bit different from what we saw with Ottawa and Jacksonville in their first years, I think because in general they were building their teams off the season they just watched instead of the changes that were made to existing teams rosters.

“Puerto Rico is not too far behind them. They’re on a little bit different calendar. They’ll have their own unique challenges in signing players and finding meaningful matches before they start. We expect them to be pretty competitive right out of the box.”

What’re the plans for expansion moving forward?
“The plan is to go to 20 teams and maintain the two seasons (The NASL plays Spring and Fall seasons with a break in between). It’ll look differently after we cross over 2016. We’re exploring some other things we may or may not be able to do it. With 20 we can keep the single table, get all the games in the weather window and keep an exciting competition.

“We’ll have announcements of at least one and maybe more teams over the next couple months. We just can’t talk about it because we’ve seen a million reasons for an ownership group to change their mind or to take longer than anyone expected. The real key is that everything is in place now. This is a much bigger league than a few years ago. There’s more at stake. We’re going to get to 20, and we’re going to continue to grow.”

A massive challenge for any nascent league is navigating the massiveness of our country and continent (The NASL has added San Francisco since PST spoke with Peterson). How does this affect your vision and business?
“It’s a very unique challenge and many times those who follow leagues in other parts of the world lose the fact that we’ve got some unique geographical challenges and they do keep you up at night. It takes longer to build a fan base when they can’t hop on us a bus and go see a team play a visiting site, or the media can’t afford to fly across the country to cover a team that’s playing a big match.

“Those are big obstacles and they aren’t going away. We have to continually overcome them, or at least reduce the impact on what we’re trying to do. In the early days it’s tougher than hopefully it will be later down the road. It’s hard enough to find the right ownership group in the right cities. It makes it even more difficult when you try to get a national footprint in a territory that’s so big.”

The New York Cosmos have beaten the Red Bulls in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup but last year was a tough year for the league in that important tournament. What’s your take on it?

New York Cosmos player Lucky Mkosana (R) greets teammate Spanish Raul Gonzalez (L) during a Cuba vs New York Cosmos friendly soccer match on June 2, 2015 at Pedro Marrero stadium in Havana. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
New York Cosmos player Lucky Mkosana (R) greets teammate Spanish Raul Gonzalez (YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
“It’s sort of organic how this comes about, but if you talk to our coaches and owners right now they’ll tell you that the Open Cup is a real priority for them. They understand the competition now, the history, they understand what it means to participate in that competition.

“Last year was a wake-up call. There was a little bit of mentality with some clubs that they maybe didn’t put the effort into it, rested some players and guess what? They lost. That was not a good feeling that day and all of them remember that. There have been discussions between ownerships and technical staff that it’s important to win Open Cup matches. You’ll see an all-out effort from our clubs this year because it’s just so fun to play. Those are cool opportunities for our players and our fans. It’s a great competition.”

It does seem like the league has grown in reputation fairly quickly. Obviously, the Cosmos help this, but why do you think its leapt in rep?
“We have an advantage in the fact that this is the NASL and it had this incredible history here in the late 60s and 70s. There are still people I meet every week whose father took them to an NASL match. Having those clubs come back has stirred up interest in those who were there the first time around. It’s disappointing that they’ve been left behind.

“We try to keep it as pure as possible. The players and the game on the field is the first priority in everything we do. The fans are second, and everything we do, any decisions we make throughout this league, it has to have a positive effect on those two groups or we don’t do it because it’s a waste of time and money. Our clubs have done a great job of promoting themselves.”

NASL Fast Facts

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@QPRFC
Teams in Spring 2016 season: Jacksonville Armada, Carolina Railhawks, FC Edmonton, Indy Eleven, Minnesota United FC, Ottawa Fury, New York Cosmos, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Rayo OKC, Miami FC

Coming in Fall 2016: Puerto Rico FC (owned by Carmelo Anthony)

Coming in 2017: San Francisco Deltas

Players you know:
Wilson Palacios and Dane Richards (Miami FC)
Samaras, Kosuke Kimura, Robbie Findley (Rayo OKC)
Juan Arango, Yasmani Duk, Kranjcar (NY Cosmos)
Jon Busch and Lovel Palmer (Indy Eleven)
Marcel de Jong and Julian de Guzman (Ottawa Fury)
Jeb Brovsky and Bernardo Anor (Minnesota United)
Darwin Espinal, Eric Avila and Freddy Adu (Tampa Bay)
Kleberson and Aurelio Saco Vertiz (Fort Lauderdale)
Nik Ledgerwood and Sainey Nyassi (FC Edmonton)

NASL’s Rayo OKC nabs Greece national teamer Georgios Samaras

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Rayo OKC’s newest signing might be its biggest pickup yet.

Georgios Samaras, 31, is coming to the NASL with the expansion side, having scored nine goals in 81 caps for the Greek national team — including the game-winning goal against Ivory Coast in the 2014 World Cup — and played club ball with Celtic, Man City, West Brom and Heerenveen.

[ MAN UTD-LIVERPOOL: Match recap | 3 thingsKlopp reacts ]

His last two stops have been rough, with just two goals in 19 appearances between the Premier League’s Baggies and Al-Hilal of the Saudi League.

Can he shake it off and find the form that saw him score 74 goals for Celtic between 2007-14? His size and style should have zero problem transitioning to the North American game.

And how far off is the NASL from the Scottish Premiership? These will be stories to monitor moving forward, especially given the influx of internationally-known names in the NASL.

Rayo OKC is striving to make an impact as the NASL duels with the USL in the Oklahoma City market. Owned by Rayo Vallecano of La Liga, the club has signed ex-MLS players Robbie Findley and Michel, and also has Ghana veteran Derek Boateng and Honduras midfielder Marvin Chavez.

In or out? – Premier League teams submit squad lists

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On Wednesday all 20 Premier League teams had to submit their final 25-man squads for the new season.

Following the transfer window slamming shut on Monday, teams have had to reshuffle their players and abide by the homegrown player rule which states that if you select a 25-man squad, at least eight players must be homegrown.

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Some teams have struggled with that, including Chelsea who had named just 20 players in their squad as they only have three homegrown players. However, every PL team can also include their U-21 players in a separate list and can call on those throughout the season if need be. Both Liverpool and Manchester City have registered 59 players under the age of 21.

Notable inclusions to squads include Fabio Borini for Liverpool, who looked as if he was heading out of Anfield on loan all summer. While Benoit Assou-Ekotto has not been included in Spurs’ squad despite Mauricio Pochettino only naming 23 players. Manchester United have included Anderson and Marouane Fellaini in their squad despite both facing uncertain futures, while Stoke City left out Peter Odemwingie following his injury.

These lists can be altered again in January after the next transfer window closes, but for now, this is what they have.

Bonus: Check out the list published on the PL’s official website for some of the craziest middle names you’ve ever seen. We’re looking at you Jack Frank Porteous Cork…

Full squad lists for Premier League teams

Arsenal – Mikel Arteta, Joel Campbell, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Debuchy, Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Kieran Gibbs, Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, Emiliano Martinez, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, David Ospina, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Alexis Sanchez, Wojciech Szczesny, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere

Aston Villa – Gabby Agbonlahor, Leandro Bacuna, Nathan Baker, Darren Bent, Christian Benteke, Aly Cissokho, Ciaran Clark, Tom Cleverley, Joe Cole, Fabian Delph, Shay Given, Brad Guzan, Chris Herd, Alan Hutton, Libor Kozak, Matthew Lowton, Charles N’Zogbia, Jores Okore, Kieran Richardson, Carlos Sanchez, Philippe Senderos, Benjamin Siegrist, Ron Vlaar, Andreas Weimann, Ashley Westwood

Burnley – Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes, George Boyd, Aleksander Cisak, Michael Duff, Matt Gilks, Tom Heaton, Danny Ings, David Jones, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Michael Kightly, Daniel Lafferty, Kevin Long, Dean Marney, Ben Mee, Luke O’Neill, Steven Reid, Jason Shackell, Marvin Sordell, Matthew Taylor, Kieran Trippier, Sam Vokes, Ross Wallace, Stephen Ward

Chelsea – Cesar Azpilicueta, Willian, Gary Cahill, Petr Cech, Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa, Oscar, Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic, Filipe Luis, Nemanja Matic, John Mikel Obi, Loic Remy, Mohamed Salah, Ramires, Andre Schurrle, Mark Schwarzer, John Terry

Crystal Palace – Barry Bannan, Yannick Bolasie, Fraizer Campbell, Marouane Chamakh, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Kevin Doyle, Zeki Fryers, Dwight Gayle, Adlene Guedioura, Brede Hangeland, Wayne Hennessey, Mile Jedinak, Andrew Johnson, Martin Kelly, Chris Kettings, Joe Ledley, Adrian Mariappa, James McArthur, Paddy McCarthy, Jason Puncheon, Julian Speroni, Jerome Thomas, Joel Ward, Wilfried Zaha

Everton – Antolin Alcaraz, Leighton Baines, Gareth Barry, Muhamed Besic, Seamus Coleman, Sylvain Distin, Samuel Eto’o, Darron Gibson, Tony Hibbert, Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, Arouna Kone, Conor McAleny, James McCarthy, Aiden McGeady, Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith, Leon Osman, Bryan Oviedo, Steven Pienaar, Joel Robles, Francisco Junior, Christian Atsu

Hull City – Sone Aluko, Hatem Ben Arfa, Robbie Brady, Alex Bruce, James Chester, Curtis Davies, Michael Dawson, Mohamed Diame, Ahmed Elmehamady, Maynor Figueroa, Stephen Harper, Abel Hernandez, Tom Huddlestone, Tom Ince, Eldin Jakupovic, Nikica Jelavic, Jake Livermore, James McGregor, Paul McShane, David Meyler, Stephen Quinn, Gaston Ramirez, Liam Rosenior, Yannick Sagbo, Robert Snodgrass

Leicester City – Marc Albrighton, Esteban Cambiasso, Adam Dawson, Ritchie de Laet, Danny Drinkwater, Ben Hamer, Dean Hammond, Matty James, Andy King, Anthony Knockaert, Paul Konchesky, Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan, David Nugent, David Nugent, Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Simpson, Adam Smith, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Leonardo Ulloa, Matthew Upson, Jamie Vardy, Marcin Wasilewski, Chris Wood

Liverpool – Joe Allen, Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Philippe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Glen Johnson, Brad Jones, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno, Lucas Leiva, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Sturridge, Kolo Toure

Manchester City – Sergio Aguero, Dedryck Boyata, Willy Caballero, Gael Clichy, Martin Demichelis, Edin Dzeko, John Guidetti, Joe Hart, David Silva, Stevan Jovetic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, Frank Lampard, Eliaquim Mangala, James Milner, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Fernando, Bacary Sagna, Scott Sinclair, Yaya Toure, Richard Wright, Pablo Zabaleta

Manchester United – Ben Amos, Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Anderson, David De Gea, Angel Di Maria, Jonny Evans, Marouane Fellaini, Darren Fletcher, Radamel Falcao, Ander Herrera, Phil Jones, Anders Lindegaard, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Rafael da Silva, Davide Petrucci, Marcos Rojo, Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie, Marnick Vermijl, Ashley Young

Newcastle United – Mehdi Abeid, Sammy Ameobi, Vurnon Anita, Remy Cabella, Papiss Cisse, Jack Colback, Fabricio Coloccini, Siem de Jong, Paul Dummett, Rob Elliot, Facundo Ferreyra, Yoan Gouffran, Jonas Gutierrez, Massadio Haidara, Daryl Janmaat, Tim Krul, Gabriel Obertan, Gabriel Obertan, Emmanuel Riviere, Davide Santon, Moussa Sissoko, Ryan Taylor, Steven Taylor, Cheick Tiote, Haris Vuckic, Mike Williamson

Queens Park Rangers – Charlie Austin, Joey Barton, Steven Caulker, Sandro, Richard Dunne, Max Ehmer, Rio Ferdinand, Robert Green, Karl Henry, Clint Hill, Junior Hoilett, Mauricio Isla, Niko Kranjcar, Alex McCarthy, Brian Murphy, Jordon Mutch, Nedum Onuoha, Matt Phillips, Yun Suk-Young, Adel Taarabt, Armand Traore, Eduardo Vargas, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Bobby Zamora

Southampton – Toby Alderweireld, Ryan Bertrand, Artur Boruc, Nathaniel Clyne, Jack Cork, Kelvin Davis, Steven Davis, Jose Fonte, Fraser Forster, Florin Gardos, Paulo Gazzaniga, Shane Long, Sadio Mane, Emmanuel Mayuka, Graziano Pelle, Jay Rodriguez, Morgan Schneiderlin, Dusan Tadic, Victor Wanyama, Maya Yoshida

Stoke City – Charlie Adam, Marko Arnautovic, Oussama Assaidi, Phil Bardsley, Asmir Begovic, Geoff Cameron, Peter Crouch, Mame Biram Diouf, Dionatan Teixeira, Robert Huth, Stephen Ireland, Bojan Krkic, Victor Moses, Marc Muniesa, Steven N’Zonzi, Wilson Palacios, Erik Pieters, Ryan Shawcross, Brek Shea, Steve Sidwell, Thomas Sorensen, Jonathan Walters, Glenn Whelan, Andy Wilkinson, Marc Wilson

Sunderland – Jozy Altidore, Ricky Alvarez, Liam Bridcutt, Wes Brown, Will Buckley, Lee Cattermole, Sebastian Coates, Steven Fletcher, Emanuele Giaccherini, Jordi Gomez, Danny Graham, Adam Johnson, Billy Jones, Sebastian Larsson, Vito Mannone, John O’Shea, Costel Pantilimon, Jack Rodwell, Cabral, Patrick van Aanholt, Santiago Vergini

Swansea City – Modou Barrow, Kyle Bartley, Wilfried Bony, Leon Britton, Tom Carroll, David Cornell, Rory Donnelly, Nathan Dyer, Marvin Emnes, Lukasz Fabianski, Federico Fernandez, Bafetimbi Gomis, Ki Sung-yueng, Jordi Amat, Jefferson Montero, Curtis Obeng, Jazz Richards, Wayne Routledge, Jonjo Shelvey, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Neil Taylor, Dwight Tiendalli, Gerhard Tremmel, Ashley Williams, Angel Rangel

Tottenham Hotspur – Emmanuel Adebayor, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Cristian Ceballos, Nacer Chadli, Vlad Chiriches, Mousa Dembele, Christian Eriksen, Federico Fazio, Brad Friedel, Younès Kaboul, Erik Lamela, Aaron Lennon, Hugo Lloris, Ryan Mason, Kyle Naughton, Danny Rose, Roberto Soldado, Benjamin Stambouli, Andros Townsend, Jan Vertonghen, Michel Vorm, Kyle Walker

West Bromwich Albion – Victor Anichebe, Chris Baird, Sebastian Blanco, Chris Brunt, Luke Daniels, Jason Davidson, Craig Dawson, Graham Dorrans, Ben Foster, Cristian Gamboa, Craig Gardner, Brown Ideye, Joleon Lescott, Gareth McAuley, James Morrison, Youssouf Mulumbu, Boaz Myhill, Jonas Olsson, Sebastien Pocognoli, Georgios Samaras, Silvestre Varela, Claudio Yacob

West Ham United – Morgan Amalfitano, Andy Carroll, Carlton Cole, James Collins, Aaron Cresswell, Guy Demel, Stewart Downing, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Matt Jarvis, Carl Jenkinson, Cheikhou Kouyate, Sebastian Lletget, Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan, Joey O’Brien, Winston Reid, Diafra Sakho, Adrian, Alex Song, Raphael Spiegel, James Tomkins, Enner Valencia, Ricardo Vaz Te, Mauro Zarate

Friday transfer rumor roundup: Manchester Utd mid search, Remy a Spur?

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As Mario Balotelli jets into Liverpool and Georgios Samaras becomes a Baggie, we take a look at the next names running toward theoretical new homes in the August transfer rumor mill.

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal may step away from interest in Angel Di Maria due to a desire not to stunt the growth of Adnan Januzaj, according to the Express. Then again, pro-Real Madrid outlet Marca says United is set for a big Di Maria bid (Spanish link). But he is said to be very interested in 21-year-old Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva. The Cruzeiro player is also sought by Inter Milan, according to the Daily Mail.

[ MORE: Jermaine Jones transfer tied up in MLS red tape? ]

Van Gaal is also said to be studying Benfica’s Nico Gaitan and Inter Milan’s Fredy Guarin in the hopes of adding more midfield depth before the window closes. Meanwhile, it’s claimed that $53 million and Chicharito is United’s final offer to pry Arturo Vidal from Juventus. It could be enough.

The Daily Star pegs London as the next spot for Danny Welbeck, who has been subject to interest from Hull City. The Manchester United outcast has apparently attracted Arsenal and Tottenham as well. Spurs continue to be linked with QPR’s Loic Remy as well.

Hull has turned its attention to prolific Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes, 24, according to The Daily Mail.

According to the Manchester Evening News, Manchester City’s 21-year-old back Matija Nastasic could be on the move to Italy, rumored to be a target for giants Juventus and AS Roma. This especially makes sense if the latter loses Mehdi Benatia to the Premier League.

Catalan outlet SPORT says Barcelona came to Real Madrid with a strong but rejected offer for Angel Di Maria (Spanish link), and that seems wild. Barca, however, need to do a bunch of business by the end of the window as their transfer ban appeal was rejected.

Georgios Samaras makes the move from Celtic to West Bromwich Albion

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Out of contract at the club that saw him turn his career around, Greek striker Georgios Samaras is going to take another chance at proving himself in the Premier League.

The 29-year-old, 6-foot-4 attacker is officially no longer a Celtic attacker, joining West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. Samaras will join a Baggies attack that added Brown Ideye and Craig Gardner over the summer, and got a pair of goals from Saido Berahino in a 2-2 opening weekend draw with Sunderland.

A fixture on the Greek national team, Samaras scored the game-winner in a 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast in group play at the World Cup. Overall, he’s scored nine goals in 78 caps for Greece and netted 53 times in 179 matches for Celtic.

However his name will ring the wrong bells for Manchester City fans, who sometimes booed the high-profile signing from Heerenveen. Samaras scored just eight times in 54 Premier League matches for City, and complained about being used as a left midfielder (a role he adapted to when needed at Celtic).

West Brom manager Alan Irvine seems to see him as a striker:

“We have now got four strikers with different qualities who can be used in different ways,” added the Scot.
“That’s great for us, because we need to have flexibility, the option to approach games in different ways and cover for injuries.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the four strikers we have.”

There will certainly be less pressure on Samaras than the load heaped on his shoulders in his last Premier League stint, and he could be a big factor for the Baggies attack. If Ideye can deliver, perhaps West Brom’s nine summer signings can boost their hopes for long-term life in the Premier League.