by JAKE NUTTING
There really isn’t a much better way for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to make their United Soccer League debut then by hosting Orlando City B. It will be just the second time that teams on opposite ends of the I-4 corridor have played a competitive match against each other. The only other competitive meeting was Orlando City’s 4-1 win over the Rowdies in the Third Round of the 2014 U.S. Open Cup.
The Rowdies are newbies in the USL, but a number of noteworthy offseason additions have quickly moved them up the league’s power rankings. Signing Jaimaican international forward Deshorn Brown and VFL Wolfsburg’s all-time leader in appearances Marcel Schäfer has caught the eye of many followers of the second division league. It’s up to the players and Head Coach Stuart Campbell to capitalize on that potential after several years of middling results in the North American Soccer League. Kicking the season off with a win against the rivals from Orlando would be great first step, as would victories in the two home matches that come right after.
Under the guidance of former Orlando City midfielder Anthony Pulis, OCB achieved its goal of reaching the postseason in its inaugural season last year. However, the reserve team only grabbed the eighth and final postseason spot by the skin of its teeth. There was a significant ten-point gap between OCB and the seventh seed. Defense was a concern for Orlando as it conceded 49 goals in the 30-game regular season and was then trounced 4-0 by New York Red Bulls II in the first round of the postseason.
In an effort to solidify that back line, OCB acquired Red Bulls II’s Zach Carroll, Ottawa Fury FC’s Fernando Timbo and the Richmond Kickers’ Scott Thomsen. With Carroll as a starter, Red Bulls II conceded a league-low 21 goals and claimed the league title.
Tampa Bay Rowdies host Orlando City B
Saturday, March 25 7:30 p.m.
Stream the match on the Rowdies Youtube channel
Referee: Ted Unkel
“When teams come and play here they look at the surroundings, they look at the pitch and they automatically raise their game. I think we will have a target on our backs, but not because we’re favorites. I think it’s going to be a really, really competitive league. There are some very good teams. So I’m not necessarily buying into that’s why we’ll be a target. I’m happy with that, because if everyone thinks that then that’s a compliment to everyone connected with the Rowdies”
“I for one am I really excited and looking forward to the rivalry. I was lucky enough to play in a couple of the I-4 Derby games and the atmosphere was always fantastic. My job this week is to get the players to understand how much this means to our supporters. It may not be the MLS team, but it’s still an Orlando City team playing against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. We know how much it means to our fans to try and get that local pride over the Rowdies.”
Matchup to Watch: Stuart Campbell has stressed the importance of pace in this year’s squad. Wingers Darwin Jones, Leo Fernandes and Alex Morrell are all being tasked with executing the team’s transition attacks. If they can find their way behind Orlando’s defense, they might be able to create some scoring chances.
Surprise!: If this didn’t feel like a real rivalry to yet, maybe the fact that OC waited until virtually the last minute to announce that a handul of senior team players have joined the USL side on loan and will be available for selection this Saturday. The players joining OCB are former Rowdies left back/winger PC, right back Kevin Alston, attackers Hadji Barry and Pierre da Silva, center backs Tommy Redding and Connor Donovan, keeper Earl Edwards Jr,, midfielder Richie Laryea, and forward Danny Deakin. The loan are technically for the entirety of the season, but MLS roster rules allow for players on loan to reserve teams in the USL to be moved freely whenever and however many times a team wants.
Ready to Go: Marcel Schäfer only arrived in Florida to meet up with his new teammates last Friday, but the Bundesliga veteran is fit and ready to go if Campbell selects him for the opener. If he does make it on the field against OCB, expect him to slot into one of the central holding midfield positions with a partner.