Florida Tropics SC officially open training camp for third MASL season

by Brian Ackley

LAKELAND, Fla – The Florida Tropics SC will officially kick off training camp for its third season in the Major Arena Soccer League this Sunday when they take to the pitch at Southeastern University.

There is plenty new for fans to look forward this year, highlighted by the key additions of goalkeeper Hugo Silva, high-scoring forward Max Touloute and defender Jose Luis Birche, not to mention a new local rival. The MASL has added three new franchises this season, including the nearby Orlando SeaWolves, along with the Toronto based Mississauga Metrostars and Dallas Sidekicks.

Also new is the South Central Division of the Eastern Conference, where the Tropics will reside. An expanded 24-game schedule has 20 of those games against divisional foes, including six matchups against the SeaWolves, six against the St. Louis Ambush, and four each against the Kansas City Comets and Milwaukee Wave, the country's longest continuously operating professional soccer franchise, which first made their debut in 1984.

The regular season starts at home on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7:05 p.m. when Florida hosts the Ambush. The first ever Seawolves v. Tropics showdown comes at the RP Funding Center on Saturday, Dec. 29.

The Tropics return the core of their lineup from last season, featuring eight of their 10 leading scorers from 2017-18, including Ricardo Diegues, captain Freddy Moojen, Victora Parrieras and Anthony Arico.

“We are excited, I think this is the best team we have put together in three years” Head Coach Clay Roberts said. “We have made some key additions in spots we felt we needed to get better at, and have the core of our talented roster back that I think will mesh perfectly with our new players. With a new nearby rival, and with division games against some of the best teams in the history of the sport, we can't wait to get started.”

Diegues set a team record in goals (28) and points (44) in his 22 games last year. Now starting his fourth season in the MASL, the popular Brazilian has 55 goals and 30 assists in just 48 games. Moojen, who has been team captain and assistant coach since the Tropics debut in 2016-17, will be starting his 12th season of professional arena soccer. In 181 career games, he has 175 goals and 81 assists following a 2017-18 campaign which saw him suit up for all 22 Florida games, scoring 22 goals and adding 12 assists.

Parreiras had 27 points last season (13 goals and 14 assists), while Arico stepped up his offensive game with 12 goals in his 21 games played. The Tropics finished 10-12, a two-game improvement in the win column from their first season, and improved their goal differential from a minus-39 two years ago to just a minus-10 last season.

Several newcomers will play big roles, as will Rafael Alves, who was signed by Florida last season, but because of injuries, appeared in just one game. It was a memorable effort, however, as in one half of play the former United Soccer League standout scored and made several big defensive plays. Back to full health, with his size and skill, he will be a key addition to the back line.

As will new goalkeeper Hugo Silva. A starter for the last two seasons for the Harrisburg Heat, Silva had the fifth best goals against average in the entire MASL in 2016-17, his rookie season, when the Heat defeated the Tropics in all four games between Harrisburg and Florida. Twice, Silva held the Tropics to just two goals, part of the reason he finished with a 5.55 goals against average.

Veteran forward Max Touloute is the key offensive addition. Playing the last two years with the San Diego Sockers, the Haitian native will be starting his 8th season of professional indoor soccer, scoring 68 goals and adding 29 assists in 73 career games. Two seasons ago, he found the frame 16 times in 19 starts for the Sockers, and enjoyed his best ever season in 2015-16 with the Missouri (now Kansas City) Comets when he scored 19 times in just 13 games.

Also new is Jose Luis Birche, who is expected to be a key piece in restart situations when it's not tending to his defensive duties. Nicknamed “El Bazooka” because of his heavy left-footed shot, look for the former Harrisburg Heat standout to be on the floor for set pieces, replacing Mauricio Salles, who tallied 19 goals for Florida last season, a number of which came on restarts.

Other fan favorites that return are Lucas Teixeira, Lucas Montelares, Lucas Countino, J.P. Reyes, Guilherme Dos Santos, Maycon Franca and Jowayne Laidley.

The family-friendly home scheduled features nine Saturday night starts, one Friday night game and two Sunday matinees late in the season. Saturday night game time is 7:05 p.m. The Friday home game (Dec. 14 vs. Harrisburg) starts at 7:35 p.m. and the Sunday afternoon kickoffs are at 3:05 p.m. In addition to multiple visits from divisional foes, Tropics fans will see the Harrisburg Heat and Baltimore Blast at the RP Funding Center. The other two non-divisional road games come the second weekend of the season when Florida travels to Utica and Mississauga.

As always, all 24 Tropics games will be broadcast live at www.maslsoccer.com. Complete schedule information, and information on tickets, is found at www.fltropics.com, or by calling 863-240-0101.