The Tampa Bay Rowdies are back in action preparing for their first preseason matchup. On Saturday, February 9 the NASL Champions will face off against historic MLS side D.C. United on the opening day of 2013 Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic.
The annual tournament takes place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and runs until the 23rd of the month. Joining the Rowdies is MLS opposition Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City, and Toronto FC. Third division side Orlando City of USL Pro rounds out the eight team tournament.
“It’s a yardstick for us to be able to go and measure ourselves against the next level, which is MLS,” said Rowdies’ Head Coach Ricky Hill. “We are going to go out there and put our best foot forward, but I do understand our players will be nowhere near our optimal fitness level. “
The Rowdies have had less than a week of preparation for the preseason tournament, with players reporting for physicals and training just this past Monday.
“From where we’re concerned, it is still our preparation for the start of the season,” said Hill. “We’re under limited time in regards to preparing for that first game.”
Despite the lack of preparation leading up to the match, Hill feels that his side’s chemistry will be a tremendous boost in the tournament. Fourteen members of last season’s title-winning campaign have had their services retained, with the club’s only major loss has been goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who signed with MLS side Real Salt Lake following a stellar season for his hometown club.
“Because we’ve played together throughout last year, and some of the guys the year before, we should understand how we want to play as a team.”
Experienced defender Jay Needham has been the only new recruit for the Rowdies so far this offseason, though the side has brought 11 trialists into camp. The tournament will be a good stage for them to show their abilities against some of the best teams in the country.
“Though I’m wary of the fact that we are early in our preparations, we will not be there to be rolled over by the MLS sides,” maintained Hill. “We will compete.”
The Rowdies take on D.C. United at 8:00 PM on February 9th, before facing Montreal Impact on the 13th and Sporting Kansas City on the 16th. The NASL Champions will play a fourth match on the 23rd against the team that finishes in the same place in Group A.
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