04/10/2014 05:06 EDT | Updated 06/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Ottawa Fury FC ready to kick off NASL career, debuts this weekend in Florida

The North American Soccer League may be second-tier but it isn't second-rate.

Just ask Marc Dos Santos, coach of the freshly minted Ottawa Fury FC.

"I believe there's a lot of players in the NASL that could play for MLS teams," said Dos Santos. "The reason sometimes they don't play for MLS team is because they feel they have to start. They prefer playing every game for an NASL team than maybe be on the bench of an MLS team."

For Dos Santos, the big difference between the leagues are the MLS' star designated players.

"If you take all the franchise players away, it's very equal," he said.

The expansion Ottawa club kicks off Saturday in Fort Lauderdale against the Strikers. Indy Eleven, based in Indianapolis, is the other new entry in the 10-team league.

Players with MLS experience on the Ottawa roster include midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic (New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact) and forward Tom Heinemann (Columbus). Defender Drew Beckie spent last season with Columbus, playing most for their reserves.

Dos Santos himself coached the Montreal Impact from 2009 to 2011, stepping down the year before the team entered Major League Soccer.

"The good thing about me with the Impact is when I left, we left on very good terms," he said. "I kept a lot of friends there."

The Impact have loaned 20-year-old midfielder Zakaria Messoudi to Ottawa to give him more playing time.

After leaving the Impact, Dos Santos went to Brazil where he coached youth teams and led the Palmeiras under-15 club to its first Brazilian championship in 2012.

Canadian talent on the Fury roster includes goalkeepers Chad Bush and Marcel DeBellis, defenders Drew Beckie, Andres Fresenga, Mason Trafford and Kenny Caceros, midfielder Philippe Davies and forwards Carl Haworth and Pierre-Rudolph Mayard.

Irish defensive midfielder Richie Ryan will captain Ottawa with midfielder Nicki Paterson and defender Omar Jarun as alternates.

"He really leads by example," Dos Santos said of Ryan. "Players follow him. He works very hard in every single training session. There's no difference for him between a game and a training session."

NASL teams are limited to seven internationals. Imports on the Ottawa roster include Brazilian left back Maykon, Ghana midfielder Hamza Elias and Scottish midfielder Paterson, and Brazilian forwards Vini Dantas and Oliver Minatel.

The 36-year-old Dos Santos, who speaks French, English, Portuguese and Spanish, says his toughest job has been to take the new roster and make sure it is on the same page.

"I think that we're in the right direction." he said. "Of course, you need time when you're an expansion team. You go through growing pains."

His goal is to play a possession-based game, with a compact aggressive defensive game.

So far so good. Ottawa went undefeated during the pre-season with a 3-0-2 record, outscoring the opposition 11-5.

Ottawa will play its home games at Carleton University's Keith Harris Stadium before moving into the new TD Place stadium for the fall part of the season.

Dos Santos' expectations this season in Ottawa are realistic.

"My objectives at the ends of this year is that we're respected in the North American market."

Ask him his dream and he offers up the semifinals of the Amway Canadian Championship, which features the two NASL teams and three MLS clubs, and "maybe" the final four of the NASL.

"That's a dream I have with the players ... But at the end of the day we want to finish the season and, at the end, have everyone respect us as a club."

Ottawa takes on FC Edmonton later this month in a home-and-away series to see who progresses to meet the Montreal Impact in the Amway semifinals.