Looking back, looking forward, Coach Roberts likes what he sees

by Brian Ackley

When Florida Tropics SC coach Clay Roberts looks back at his team's inaugural season in the Major Arena Soccer League, he sees a lot to like.

And when he looks ahead to the team's second MASL season which will kick off in November at the Lakeland Center, his thinks there will be even more for fans to get excited about.

In fact, after eight wins as an expansion team, Roberts says the things the team needs to do to make the post season – something they almost did this year – aren't all that drastic.

“The top of my wish list for next year is to have three lines of goal scorers that are consistent, we were two out of the three this year,” Roberts said, “as well shore up a couple of defensive positions. But at the same time, getting the core group back is a big thing.  I think our young group grew tremendously, and we're working hard to keep our core group back next year, which I think we will. I'm excited for the future.”

Baltimore won the MASL title for the second straight season last weekend. While Florida was 0-3 against their eastern division foe, the Blast led by just one goal in two of those games heading into the final 15 minutes.

He said playing the Blast in three of the team's first seven games actually benefited the Tropics even though all were losses to the eventual champs.

“I think it was a good thing for us. We had to learn quickly what it was going to take to win this league, to learn the game,” he said. “To see us grow from the beginning to the end, I'm very happy where we ended up. We really didn't know what we were going to look like coming into the season, we had so many new players, and to end up with eight wins in the division we're in, was fantastic. We had some high marks in the season, and it speaks to how we evolved.”

The team's youth and relative inexperience in the indoor game led to moments, especially early in the season, that opponents took advantage of, scoring multiple goals in a short period of time, Roberts added.

“We spent 10 straight games probably talking about when's the blow up minute going to happen, how many goals can you score against us,” Roberts said. “That came from emotions, and early on, I chose not to call time out, I thought it was necessary for us to go through it. What I walked away with is 'how can I do that better next year?'  The game is running a mile a minute. When you make consecutive mistakes, goals happen, and you don't usually recover. We found ourselves in that position early on, but we grew and essentially eliminated those 'five minutes of fury' later in the season which kept us in games and helped us when we went on our big run at home.”

A number of the team members will stay in the area and play this summer for Lakeland Tropics of the USL Premier Development League. Two of the team's leading scorers, Ricardo Diegues and Victor Parreiras, have already been announced as joining the PDL side, pending league approval, and a number of other Florida Tropics players are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.

Lakeland will kick off its 14-game regular season on May 11 in Miami, and the home opener is Saturday, May 20, at Bryant Stadium when the defending southeastern division Villages SC team comes to town for a 7:35 p.m. start. Tickets are available by calling 240-0101, or online at www.lakelandtropics.com