The 7 NASL stars who need to be on Major League Soccer’s radar
Nazmi Albadawi, North Carolina FC
This May, FourFourTwo profiled the North Carolina native in our Talentspotter series, and he’s continuing to live up to the hype. Serving as the club’s captain, he’s kept consistent all season long, playing all but 65 minutes of the campaign.
A self-requested move from the 10 spot to the 8 has resulted in lower counting stats, but the midfielder’s improved defensive ability has readied him for a move to the next level. Meanwhile, Albadawi is second in the league in chances created, with 56 across 32 starts. With NCFC finishing the regular season in third, the NASL playoffs will most likely be Albadawi’s final action in the league. There are at least half a dozen MLS sides looking for his signature, along with a few clubs in Europe. Stay tuned.
Richie Ryan, Miami FC
Ryan sent shockwaves across the lower division last summer, moving from Jacksonville to Miami FC or a lower-division record transfer fee. He’s lived up to the price tag, helping turn Miami from bottom-feeder to a powerhouse.
A true No. 6, the Irishman has helped shield a raw backline and allow the team’s potent attack to flourish. While he turns 33 this January, he could provide veteran guile and a steady defensive presence to a club needing help both on the field and off. Teams like Vancouver, Philadelphia, and New England fit that bill.
Stefano Pinho, Miami FC
Miami’s attack has revitalized the 2015 Golden Boot winner. After an inconsistent season with Minnesota, Pinho has refound his scoring spark to the tune of 17 goals this year – six more tallies than the league runner-up.
Pinho (pictured above) profiles best playing as a second striker, though he’s shown some ability drifting in from the wing. Teams needing an infusion of goals are vast across the league right now. Sporting KC, Los Angeles, and San Jose would be wise to make an inquiry this winter.
Jack Blake, Jacksonville Armada
The former Nottingham Forest scholar left England after an unfortunate injury scuppered his first professional contract. After joining Minnesota United for their final NASL campaign, Blake headed to Jacksonville, joining up with compatriot head coach Mark Lowry.
Blake has become the focal point for a massively improved Armada side, scoring a hat-trick this year and finishing the season on nine goals and four assists. A deadly set-piece artist, Blake seems ready to contribute to a team needing central midfield help, such as Orlando, Real Salt Lake, or (perhaps ironically) Minnesota.
Caleb Patterson-Sewell, Jacksonville Armada
On the other end of the field, Jacksonville has been stabilized in part thanks to the goalkeeping prowess of Patterson-Sewell. Once an academy player for Anderlecht and Liverpool, the Tennessee native has manned the net for a mostly rebuilt Armada backline.
Patterson-Sewell finished 2017 fourth in saves and third in clean sheets with 10. At 30, he’s in a similar situation as Matt van Oekel was in 2016, who left FC Edmonton for RSL and has been a capable backup for Nick Rimando. Teams needing goalkeeping help include New England, D.C. United, and the LA Galaxy.
Emmanuel Ledesma, New York Cosmos
While the Cosmos haven’t replicated their usual dominance, that’s no fault of Ledesma’s. The Argentine winger leads the league in chances created with an eye-catching 74 through just 19 appearances. He ended the fall season with a hat trick to bring his tally to 10 goals and six assists in his half-season, helping Gio Savarese’s side get back into playoff contention. He’ll turn 30 this winter, but for an MLS side with an open international slot, he still has the quality to make an impact. Montreal, FC Dallas, and Chicago may want to give him a look.
Jimmy Maurer, New York Cosmos
Long seen as the goalkeeping standard in the NASL, Maurer was called into spot duty with FC Dallas this summer. He made the bench in one match before returning, but he’s long been due for a look at the next level.
He’s maintained six clean sheets despite a rotating cast of Cosmos defenders, and could add some depth for a team that needs a capable domestic backup. Along with the aforementioned trio of teams, Minnesota and 2018 MLS expansion side LAFC could use extra ability between the posts.