NASL: Juan Arango returns to the Cosmos, league arms race continues

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - MAY 23: Juan Arango
CHAPECO, BRAZIL - MAY 23: Juan Arango /

The 2016 NASL MVP has returned to the New York Cosmos ahead of the NASL Fall Season. How will he impact the Cosmos chances?

Sliding under the radar on a day that has been overcome with promotion and relegation in the American Soccer Scene was a significant signing in the NASL. One of the many casualties from the New York Cosmos uncertain offseason was Venezuelan legend, Juan Arango. The former national team captain had no trouble landing on a new team after the Cosmos released all players from their contracts amid the financial turmoil. Arango signed with Venezuelan side Zulia FC, along with The Cosmos and Venezuelan National Team teammate Yohandry Orozco, ahead of their Copa Libertadores run.

Since then, things have stabilized for the Cosmos under Rocco Commisso, and now heading into the Fall Season, head coach Gio Savarese is piecing together a squad to compete for their third straight league title, their fourth in five years, against the Miami FC, who ran away with the Spring Season and are still on a deep Open Cup run. Now the Cosmos most significant piece will be back in Green and White as Arango has returned to New York for the rest of the year. The 16 game NASL Fall Season will provide plenty of intrigues as the Cosmos and Miami try to out do each other, and the rest of the league tries to stay competitive. While Miami and the Cosmos have started their arms race, how will the rest of the league compete?

The Trend Setters

The NASL is an interesting league, to say the least. The league finally seems to be on stable ground (relatively) after several seasons of upscale turnover, overspending, rapid expansion, and changing of ownership. The reboot Cosmos have been at the center of it all. They’ve settled into the NASL as their home and have used their legacy to land several players who would have been unlikely to sign in the United States Division 2 League, and part of that unlikelihood stems from teams being unwilling to pay the fee demanded for their services. The Cosmos would then surround them with talented role players, who would likely be standouts (or already were in some cases) for their NASL competitors.

It all started with Spanish National Team player and long time Villarreal captain, Marcos Senna, who played an integral role in setting the tone of how the Cosmos play. Then came Raúl. Yes, THAT Raúl, who was replaced by Arango. Theirs paid off in terms of winning, winning three league titles in the four season they participated in, but was costly for a Division 2 side, as evident by their eleventh-hour sale to Commisso.

The Cosmos relied on their role players and some less familiar names for the Spring Season, which saw them finish in third, tied on points with the Jacksonville Armada, but finishing behind the San Francisco Deltas and Miami. In other seasons, those role players would likely have still been in the hunt, but this time around someone else had copied their blueprint.

Noisy Neighbors

Miami FC came into the league surrounded by impressive player rumors, similar to New York. Eventually, they landed some impressive players of pedigree, but they didn’t quite pan out like some of the other name-players around the league. Miami instead opted to focus on several NASL veterans, paying transfer fees for their signatures. They superseded the Cosmos and bought out the loans of Cosmos starters Michael Lahoud and Gabriel Farfan from their parent clubs, then offered defender Hunter Freeman an offer he couldn’t refuse.

When the NASL’s future looked bleak, Miami became a safe harbor for of the top NASL talent. Stefano Pinho, Michel, and Dylan Mares were brought in as the second wave of reinforcements. They were more of an NASL All-Star team to an extent as the league stabilized and began to play in 2017. Miami’s roster has played a key role in their Spring Season title, which they won by an impressive 10 points and their Open Cup run where they’ll face FC Cincinnati for a chance to play New York Red Bulls in the semi-finals.

Miami hasn’t made any summer window additions, but they haven’t really needed to. They were briefly rumored to be after Roma legend, Francesco Totti, but he ultimately chose to retire a one-club man.

A Two Horse Race?

With the Cosmos retooling and Miami staying strong, on the surface, it seems that the NASL title will be decided between the two of them. San Francisco Deltas and Jacksonville Armada have punched well above their weight but will have to keep doing so to compete with the flagship clubs of the league.

Next: NASL Spring Season Recap

The Miami vs New York matchup should prove to be impressive, and the first matchup of the Fall Season is the opening match on July 29. The Cosmos will now have the 2016 MVP on their side to try to beat the Spring champs and win the first battle in the war for NASL supremacy.