Goals were hard to come by in Saturday’s NASL action, leaving both matches closely contested until the final whistles.
Michel’s second-half penalty kick was enough for Rayo OKC to edge Miami FC on the road. The victory gives Rayo a significant jump in the standings up to fifth place.
Meanwhile, Miami will surely rue its missed opportunity on the night, having had the chance to move up to second place. With just four matches remaining in the Fall Season, Miami trails the New York Cosmos by eight points.
Puerto Rico FC and Minnesota United finished scoreless in Bayamon, despite a late flurry of chances from the road side. Both clubs struggled to earn quality attempts on goal Saturday, with each team posting one shot on target throughout the match.
Kevin Venegas had several chances in the dying minutes, including a free kick from directly outside the penalty area, however, the Minnesota attacker couldn’t break through for the visitors. Minnesota currently sits sixth on the table, while Puerto Rico moved up one spot to seventh place following the draw.
The New York Cosmos put their slump behind them just in time to retake the top spot in the table with a 3-0 win over Puerto Rico on Saturday.
It wasn’t easy for New York, as has been the case for much of the last few weeks, but a solid showing from Lucky Mkosana helped them through. It was the 28-year-old’s cross on the break that saw Puerto Rico defender Cristiano Dias put it into his own net to open the scoring in the 16th minute. Much of the game was a slog, but Mkosana assisted Juan Arango’s headed effort to put the game away in the 84th minute, and the Zimbabwean grabbed a deserved goal in added time to solidify the scoreline.
The win for the Cosmos was their 10th win at home for the 2016 season (spring and fall table combined), a new NASL record, helping them back atop the fall table after a three-game winless run. They finished second in the spring season to Indy on head-to-head record despite being level on points, goal differential, and goals scored.
Elsewhere, the Cosmos were allowed back atop the table after Rayo OKC and Minnesota United both dropped points with the two playing to a 2-2 draw in Yukon, Oklahoma. A scoreless first half exploded in the second 45, with both teams holding a lead at some point. The visitors thought they had a winner in the 92nd minute as Christian Ramirez seemed to have decided it, but Rayo defender Futty Danso replied just a minute later with his second goal of the game to settle things evenly.
Miami FC pulled itself out the table’s bottom third with a 2-1 home win over Indy Eleven. Ariel Martinez scored the eventual winner in the 85th minute on a long, cross-field feed from Blake Smith and a smart long-range finish.
The Ottowa Fury pulled into the top half of the table with a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies. A pair of first-half goals led the way for the home side, and defense ran through the rest of the clock. Fort Lauderdale also pulled itself off the bottom of the table with a 1-0 win over Jacksonville.
In Bayamon, Paulo Mendes found Hector Ramos for the lone goal of the match in the 53rd minute, and Puerto Rico FC picked up its first win in team history with a 1-0 win over visiting Rayo OKC on Saturday night.
Only one team in the league remains winless, as Fort Lauderdale fell 3-1 to Minnesota United. Christian Ramirez scored his league-best 11th goal of the season, while J.C. Banks and Ismaila Jome also netted for the victors.
Elsewhere, Carolina drew Miami 3-3 on Friday night, while Ottawa picked up its first win of the Fall Season with a 2-0 win in Florida against Jacksonville Armada.
The small forward, who is a nine-time NBA All-Star, admitted that he did consider partially investing in an MLS club, but ultimately decided to go with NASL because he wanted full control of a club. Anthony subtlety hinted that MLS’ single-entity structure factored in his decision making.
“Well I like the actual business plan. I like that in the NASL, everyone runs their own business,” Anthony told NBCSports.com in an interview last Thursday. “You build your business up in the way you want to. Not being told by someone else how to build it. That was one of the keys that kind of intrigued me when I was thinking about NASL or MLS.”
He added, “It was just an opportunity from a business side, and being able to make my own rules and my own team. Run my own club and build it the way that I want to. Having 100 percent ownership of it. Whether that’s marketing or sponsors, the kicks [that players wear], concessions. Whatever it might be, I own all of it.”
Anthony’s comments suggest that MLS’s single-entity structure deterred him from deciding to join the league.
MLS declined to comment but the league is similar to other major American leagues like the NFL, NBA or MLB that the league ultimately has the final say in matters ranging from apparel makers to trades and transfers.
That is different from England’s Premier League or Spain’s La Liga, where all 20 clubs are independent businesses who can make their own decisions on those issues. For example, all MLS clubs use Adidas as their kit makers, whereas Premiership clubs constantly negotiate for deals independently on jerseys, warm-up outfits, etc.
The NASL is similar to the England’s top flight in that sense. Anthony’s Puerto Rico FC wears Nike, the same brand that he has a sneaker deal with for the NBA whereas the New York Cosmos’ kits are made by Under Armour. There is also no salary cap in NASL, whereas MLS has a small salary cap of $3.66 million with exceptions against that number in the form of Designated Players and Targeted Allocation Money.
While NASL’s setup may allow owners more liberties, there are some drawbacks.
For one, MLS’s single-entity structure has made the league more financially stable as clubs have revenue sharing and better sponsorship options. NASL famously folded in the 1980s due to the financial imbalance of the league. MLS is also recognized by U.S. Soccer as the top division of soccer in America, an issue that NASL has publicly criticized
It is the combination of those factors have made MLS clubs significantly worth more than NASL’s clubs, with the Seattle Sounders being the most valuable soccer club in the U.S. at $245 million. MLS franchise fees recently peaked at $100 million with NYCFC and continue to rise, whereas NASL’s fees are in single-digit millions.
Anthony even hinted that he would be open to one day seeing his club in MLS.
“I just want to put something great together, a great product,” he said. “Not be labeled as just a NASL team, MLS team or whatever. I think if in the future or something, if that conversion were to start…and I think that may happen at some point soon….Right now, I’m trying to build this up with NASL and I see so much growth there.”
Anthony also weighed in on another big debate in the American soccer landscape; should there be a promotion/relegation system in the U.S.?
The 32-year-old, who is friends with European soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Thierry Henry among others, admits he’d love to see the system come stateside – as long as it’s done in a way that works for all involved.
“I’m not against Pro/Rel, and in some instances, I’m all for it…if it’s done right. If it’s planned out right, I’m all for it. If it’s all one big division one, I’m all for it. I’m not against at all, but it has to make sense…If it helps the sport for the whole country, I’m all for it and I support it.”
There are obvious reasons for that. Imagine if a team like the LA Galaxy got relegated and replaced by NASL team that’s worth $3-7 million. Less owners would be inclined to spend the huge amounts needed for franchise fees in MLS. Anthony understands those concerns, which is why despite the fact that his own club would stand to benefit financially if there was a MLS/NASL promotion setup, he thinks the system should first be experimented with the NASL and USL leagues.
“Imagine if NASL was Division 1, and USL was Division 2? Like you told teams from USL, hey you have a shot of playing in the NASL next year…So I think it what it comes to is things like stadium size and fan bases,” He said. “Because it’s like you can’t take like a big team, I don’t want to name cities, and see them get relegated to a division where they are playing teams that have like 2,000 fans a game. And obviously, you’ve got to think about that as well.”
Considering that in the NBA, there are several teams that are accused of tanking to get high draft picks, would the concept work in basketball?
“You can’t use it in a basketball sense, it only works in soccer,” Anthony quickly replied.
It may not be a well-known fact but New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is a big follower of the beautiful game.
The nine-time NBA All-Star made headlines last year when he purchased a soccer club, NASL side Puerto Rico FC, a team that will launch its inaugural season on July 2.
Anthony hopes that his investment will be a positive addition to the already major strides that the sport has made and believes that it will be competing with all major American sports very soon…including his NBA.
“It’s growing at a pace that no one could have ever imagined.”
Like most soccer fans in this country, he wants to see the U.S. national take the next step on the global stage and compete with the biggest teams in the world.
He believes that by opening up a team in the American commonwealth, with a heavy emphasis on academies and homegrown players, he will be able to help in his own way.
“The point is, we want our U.S. national team to compete with the Germanys and all those other countries,” he said. “But we have to start with our youth and we need to have more emphasis on our academies.”
So yes, Anthony has been following the U.S. national team to see if its will progress out of the group stage in the Copa America Centario. He recently traveled to Chicago to see the tournament hosts rebound from a 2-0 opening loss to Colombia, as the Yanks routed Costa Rica 4-0. It was a result that he said he thoroughly enjoyed and one that he believes should raise the expectations on the team.
“Well this is the time for them to show that. Show that we have the talent as a country. We can play at a high level as well. I think this is a pivotal time for the U.S. and its national team.”
Anthony is scheduled to attend the Copa America Final at MetLife Stadium on June 26, if his schedule permits. He hopes he’ll be watching the U.S. in that match.
“Yeah, I have to [want them to win]. I’m American. Go U.S.A.!”
You can bet if the team makes it that far, Melo will be there.