As the future of the NASL hangs in the balance, I take a look back at the modern era NASL Best XI. Included in my considerations for the League’s all time (modern era) Best XI are: impact on the League, postseason League awards, team trophies, all time stats leaders, as well as those who used the NASL to get to the next level. I also took into consideration the opinions of other members of the Midfield Press staff. For the Best XI, I wanted a playable starting XI, so I went with a 4-4-2 with players playing in a position where they have played during their time in the NASL.
Romuald Peiser: GK – OTT Fury/SF Deltas
Peiser is coming off of a Soccer Bowl winning season with the “won and done” San Francisco Deltas. Peiser joined the League in 2014 for the expansion side, Ottawa Fury. In his four years in the League, he has racked up more than 100 appearances and established himself as one of the League’s top keepers. Playing for Marc Dos Santos both in Ottawa and in San Francisco, Peiser earned the 2015 Golden Glove Award and was a 2015 NASL Best XI player. He was part of teams that won the 2015 NASL Fall Championship and the 2017 NASL Soccer Bowl title.
Justin Davis: Right Back – MN Stars/United
Davis played his entire NASL career for Minnesota, appearing for the Club 163 times before following the Club into MLS. He is one of the four players who appeared on the NASL Best XI team on three occasions. When Davis departed the League, he was the all-time leader in minutes played. As a part of the Stars, he won the 2011 NASL Championship.
Carlos Mendes: Center Back – NY Cosmos
The New York Cosmos captain is one of the most decorated players in the League’s short history. Mendes has been part of all three Cosmos championships and played his final ever match in this year’s championship, his 4th appearance in the final. During his time anchoring the Cosmos backline, Mendes earned NASL Best XI honors on three occasions, another one of the four players to be featured on the League’s Best XI three times.
Aaron Pitchkolan: Center Back – PR Islanders/SA Scorpions/MN United/JAX Armada
Pitchkolan is a NASL original having played since the League’s inception in 2011. He made the League Best XI for Minnesota in 2013. Pitchkolan is noteworthy for having more appearances in the League (175) than any other player and playing more minutes (14,674) than any other player. His steadiness in the back for four different teams earned him inclusion on this list.
Lance Laing: Left Back – FTL Strikers/FC EDM/MN United/NCFC
Laing is one of the longest serving NASL players having made stops in Fort Lauderdale, Edmonton, Minnesota and North Carolina. He is one of just four players to earn NASL Best XI honors on three occasions. He did so at three different positions, making the team at defense, midfield, and forward. Laing is also one of just a handful of players to play in the League every year since it’s inception. He has made 152 appearances in the NASL, good for 4th most in League history.
Luke Mulholland: Center Midfielder – MN Stars/TB Rowdies
Mulholland is one of the NASL’s early success stories in terms of producing talent for the next level. Mulholland played just two full seasons in the NASL, earning League Best XI honors in both 2012 and 2013. He entered the League late in 2011, joining the Minnesota Stars after a USL Rookie of the Year campaign. In just 7 games with Minnesota, he helped the Club lift the first NASL Championship and earned himself Soccer Bowl MVP for his efforts in the final. He also helped Tampa Bay win the 2012 NASL title by scoring the first penalty in the shoot out, making him one of only a handful of non-Cosmos players to win the League twice.
Marcos Senna:Center Midfielder– NY Cosmos
Senna was the Cosmos’ big name star that also was their rock in midfield. The Brazilian came to New York in 2013 after a long stay in the La Liga Midfield of Villarreal. He immediately became the marshal in the Cosmos’ spring wining season that led the Club to their first NASL Championship. Senna earned a place on the NASL Best XI in 2013, despite only playing a half season. Although in his late 30’s, Senna went on to win a second NASL Soccer Bowl in 2015, before retiring as a Club legend after three seasons with the Cosmos.
Walter Restrepo: Midfielder Winger– FTL Strikers/SA Scorpions/NY Cosmos
Restrepo might be most famous in the NASL for being the player traded by Fort Lauderdale for hotel accommodations from the San Antonio Scorpions. While synonymous with one of the peak NASL headlines, Restrepo makes the Best XI for his dominant play on the field. As part of the founding of the League in 2011 with the Strikers, Restrepo was part of the first modern era Soccer Bowl as Fort Lauderdale lost to Minnesota. He was then named to the League’s Best XI with the Strikers in 2012, and then again in 2014 with the San Antonio Scorpions. He was part of the 2014 Soccer Bowl winning Scorpions’ side before joining up with the Cosmos in 2015. He would pick up a second Soccer Bowl title with New York that season.
Miguel Ibarra: Midfielder Winger – MN United
Ibarra probably gained the League its most notoriety when he was selected by Klinsmann for the USMNT, becoming the first player in the League to be called into the US National Team while playing in the League. While Ibarra was not part of the 2011 NASL winning Minnesota side because he joined the team in 2012, he was named to both the 2013 and 2014 League Best XI teams as he became one of the League’s most dominate wingers. In 2014, Ibarra also earned the Golden Ball award for the League’s best player. His success led to a contract in Mexico before he returned in 2017 to be a part of Minnesota’s inaugural MLS team.
Stefano Pinho: Forward – FTL Strikers/MN United/MIA FC
Pinho is the League’s only two-time Golden Ball winner and one of just two, two-time Golden Boot winners. He won both awards in 2015 with the Strikers for his League-leading 16 goals, and then won both awards again in 2017 with Miami for his League-leading 17 goals. Not surprisingly, he was named to the League’s Best XI both of those seasons. In between his two Golden Ball seasons in South Florida, he played in Minnesota, but not in his normal position, preventing him from maybe winning the award three times.
Christian Ramirez: Forward – MN United
Arguably a better attacker than his teammate Ibarra who was called into the National team, Ramirez accomplished just about everything else he could have during his three years in the NASL. Ramirez, like Pinho, won the Golden Boot award on two occasions, winning it for his 20 goals in 2014 and his 18 goals in 2016. In 2014, Ramirez was named the League’s Young Player of the Year for his 20-goal season. He is also one of the four players who earned League Best XI honors three times, making the IX in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He has also earned the NASL Player of the Month award 5 times, more than any other player in League history. Following his standout performances in the NASL, he followed the team to their inaugural MLS season, scoring 14 more goals in his first season in MLS.
Richie Ryan – Captain of Ottawa when they earned the 2015 Fall title and made the Soccer Bowl final. Won the 2017 Spring and Fall titles with Miami as their leader in Midfield.
Georgi Hristov – 2013 Golden Ball winner for Tampa Bay and the League’s all-time leader in assists.
Ayoze García – Cosmos left back and three time League winner. Started all four NASL Soccer Bowl finals and rarely missed a start in 5 seasons for New York.
Raul – Modern Era NASL Pele and Real Madrid Legend. Brought tons of attention to the League.
Kwadwo Poku – Turned his quality play in Atlanta into a MLS contract, before returning to the NASL in Miami for a large transfer fee.
Jimmy Maurer – Three time League winner and Cosmos keeper.
Jeff Atinella – Rowdies keeper who turned NASL success into MLS contract. 2012 NASL Best XI and Soccer Bowl winner.
Pablo Campos – Modern Era all-time leading goal scorer.
Tommy Heinemann – Scored in the 2015 and 2017 Finals. Scored the winner in the 2017 Finals for the Deltas.
Nazmi Albadawi – Local academy product turned captain and playmaker for NCFC.