GAME ON!!! Tropics, Ambush will kick off 2021 MASL season with Saturday, Sunday games

by Brian Ackley

LAKELAND, Fla. –  The Florida Tropics will kick off the entire Major Arena Soccer League 2021 season – the team’s fifth year of professional indoor soccer in Central Florida – when they host the St. Louis Ambush Saturday, Jan. 2 at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

The two teams will also meet Sunday in Lakeland to complete the weekend double header. Saturday’s start is at 5:05 p.m. and Sunday’s kickoff will be at 3:05 p.m. Tickets are available through the team’s Facebook page, or at the RP Funding Center box office prior to kickoff each day. A pay-per-view live broadcast is also available through Facebook.

The Tropics, presented by Bond Clinic, will be among the favorites in the MASL this season as the defending Eastern Conference champions, after amassing an 18-3 record last season. The MASL shut down three game prior to the end of the regular season, and the playoffs were also canceled because of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, with the Tropics declared conference titlists, ahead of conference rivals Milwaukee Wave (14-6), Utica City (14-6) and the Baltimore Blast (15-8).

The team returns plenty of offensive firepower, including its top seven scorers from a season ago, and has added MASL superstar forward Ian Bennett for the 2021 season. Florida’s 73 goals were second in the conference last year, only two back of Baltimore’s 175 goals, despite the fact the Blast played two more games that the Tropics.

Leading scorer Ricardo Carvalho (23 goals and 23 assists) return as does second team All MASL selection and team captain Victor Parreiras (21 goals, 15 assists) and former MISL Rookie of the Year Zack Reget (21 goals, 15 assists). Added to the offensive punch is Bennett, who has appeared in 273 indoor games in his career, scoring 381 goals and adding 104 assists. He has been an All MASL first-team selection in three of the last four seasons, and was also a second-team All MASL selection in 2018-19 and 2015-16. Last year, Bennett was second in the league in goals scored with 44. In the three seasons prior, he scored 47, 50 and 53 goals respectively.

Defensively, the team was stout as well, allowing just 86 goals, fewest among all 17 teams in the MASL last year. Goalkeeper Hugo Silva returns, having posted a league-best 4.14 goals against average, as does Drew Ruggles – signed as a free agent prior to last year – who earned MASL Defender of the Year honors following a career high 14 goals and 22 total points to go along with a team high 20-blocked shots.

Head Coach Clay Roberts, the MASL Coach of the Year in 2019-20, starts his fifth season behind the Tropics bench.

“We feel like we have a little unfinished business, but we also recognize that this is a totally new year, and there’s going to be a lot of good sides playing again this season, so we will have to be at our offensive best, and more importantly, our defensive best, right out of the gate,” Roberts noted. “St. Louis did more to improve their roster than any team in the league I think, so this weekend will be a great test to see where we stand.”

The Tropics will open the season with five straight home games, including a doubleheader weekend Jan. 8 and 10 with a visit from the Kansas City Comets and hosting the Dallas Sidekicks on Jan. 16. They will conclude the month by returning the favor with the Ambush in St. Louis on Jan. 29 and Jan. 31.

At present, 11 teams have committed to playing in the 2021 season, although that could still change depending on local restrictions related to the pandemic. Six teams are playing in January, with the remaining teams to join the mix in February. Teams will play between 12 and 24 games, with playoff seeding determined by overall winning percentage. 

The league is announcing schedules only a month at a time because of the pandemic restrictions, but the final games of the regular season will be played by April 18.

Single game tickets are available through the team’s Facebook page (click on the event link), or by calling 863-240-0101. Tickets will also be available gameday at the RP Funding Center box office. The team and arena have devised a socially distanced seating plan that can accommodate approximately 1,500 fans per game. Facial coverings will be required for those in attendance.