March to the Ron Newman Cup begins tonight in Lakeland as Tropics tangle with Baltimore Blast
LAKELAND, Florida – The Florida Tropics are hoping to take that last step as the 2022-23 Major Arena Soccer League playoffs opens this weekend.
The first, step, however, will come Friday night at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland as the Tropics host the Baltimore Blast in a home-and-home series that will conclude Saturday night in Maryland.
Friday’s kickoff is at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday’s start is 6:05 p.m. EDT. Both games will be broadcast live on MASL TV on Twitch.
Last year, the Tropics made a run all the way through to the MASL Finals where the San Diego Sockers took home the Ron Newman Cup winning games 6-3 and 4-3 to take the title, their second straight.
However, Florida was the No. 1 seed in the East last yearn, but had to settle for a third place finish in the division this season, meaning no home field advantage for the two-game series. If the teams split the first two games, they will play a 15-minute “knockout game” at the conclusion of game two, which in this case will be in Baltimore Saturday.
The two teams have played 17 times over the past seven years – all regular season games – with Baltimore holding a 10-7 advantage. However, Florida is 6-2 since the start of the 2019-20 season against the Blast, including winning four straight games at the SECU Arena.
Florida comes in on a two-game win streak, having defeated the St. Louis Ambush in a doubleheader in Lakeland last weekend. Baltimore and the Tropics have played three times this year, but they were all back very early in the season, with Florida taking two of the three. Each team won once the the other’s home field as well.
“Our games against them were so long ago, it’s really two different teams playing against each other,” Florida Head Coach Clay Roberts said. “I’m not sure either of us had any rhythm or identity back then. We’ve gone through some ups and downs, they’ve gone through some ups and downs, but we like where we’re at. We played well for the most part this past weekend so we just have maintain our discipline, do the things well we do, defend and take advantage of our chances. If we do those things, I’m confident we’ll get the result we want.”
Two pluses for the Tropics are they as healthy as they have been all season, with the lone exception of Defender of the Year candidate Rafa Alves who is out with an MCL injury. Alves led the entire MASL in blocked shots this year with 59. But Chad Vandegriffe is tied for second in the league in blocks (54) and Drew Ruggles, who was sixth in the league in blocks (40), continue to anchor the back line.
Also, the team has been buoyed by the return of two-time MASL all-star Hugo Silva in goal.
Silva, with his visa issue resolved, dressed in the final three games for the Tropics, and posted a 3.80 goals against average and spectacular saves percentage of .830. In the two seasons prior to his being ineligible, Silva posted goals against averages of 3.45 and 4.43.
Former Blast standout Vini Dantas leads Florida in goals with 19, despite not dressing for five games, and Ricardo Carvalho is the overall leader in points with 17 goals and 17 assists (34 points). Lucas Roque leads the Baltimore offense with 30 goals and 17 assists.
Playoff game tickets are available starting at just $7 per game by calling the arena box office at 863-834-8111. on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday after 2:30 p.m.. Tickets will also be available game day at the box office after 2:30 p.m. Although tickets are also available online at www.rpfundingcenter.com, service fees are significantly higher through Ticketmaster as opposed to calling the box office directly.