Ruggles brings championship mindset, high expectations as Tropics get set for 4th MASL season
LAKELAND, Fla – He scans the field, missing nothing, absorbing everything, waiting for his next shift to come.
"More discipline is needed in clearing the defensive third," he tells his teammates. A careless or mindless kick out of the zone to noone in particular, or nowhere in particular, just leads to another minute of having to play defense. Wasted time, wasted effort.
"Work hard, all the time, or if you're just tired, get off the floor," he reminds. The team philosophy is to immediately get five players behind the ball when not attacking, and he is there to remind each and every player that it takes maximum effort, for 60 minutes, to make that happen.
It's hard to believe that his favorite ice cream is vanilla, because Drew Ruggles is anything but when it comes to indoor soccer.
Fresh off a Major Arena Soccer League championship with the Milwaukee Wave – whose players and fans will tell you just how important he was to that title – Ruggles is one of 11 free agent players signed by the Florida Tropics SC this off season. Every one of them will have a chance to be a true impact player, but few if any will ultimately have more influence on the outcome of games and this season than the all-star defender.
If nothing else, he's had a first-hand look at just what a championship roster looks like. He sees the potential in the Tropics, but only if everyone is held accountable, player-to player, and first and foremost accountable to themselves.
That kind of accountability has been in short supply for the Tropics in their first three seasons. Ruggles will make sure it won't happen for a fourth.
“That was one thing in Milwaukee that really stuck with me, is that desire to not have to be told to work hard,” Ruggles said. “It's expected. It's something internal that you give to the team as a player. It should never be questioned.”
There is a path, obvious to Ruggles at least, that makes the hard work pay off.
“That turns into that winning mentality. You're holding yourself accountable and showing up everyday and doing what we're here for,” he added. “That was huge for the success we had in Milwaukee so hopefully I can bring that mentality here. It should just be a mindset.”
Another thing Tropics fans haven't seen much of is a top-line defender who isn't afraid to mix it up in the offensive end too. His 11 goals last season for Milwaukee were a career best.
“I wouldn't say it's an important part – I got a couple of those off set pieces – but I think it also spoke to the system we had in Milwaukee,” Ruggles noted. “As a defender, our job is to defend, but that changes a little bit in the indoor game because everyone is trying to defend. So in those moments, it's all about being able to read the game and seeing when you can take those chances to go forward. And I like to think I'm kind of an athletic guy, so getting forward, taking advantage of the bigger forwards that don't want to get back and defend is something I really take pride in. Any chance I can get into the attack, and it makes sense, I love to take those chances. But at the end of the day, I'm a defender.”
Playing for the Wave, the North Carolina native knows a thing or two about how to manage expectations, which this year, are undeniably high.
“We don't have the past anymore, it has to happen now, and that's huge,” he added. “You have to embrace it. There might be times where you doubt it a little bit, but at the end of the day, you have to have confidence in yourself and exude that, and that there is no doubt, because people can smell that. They can tell. Really, It's all about accountability. It always falls back to that. We're a team now.”
Tropics fans will get their first chance to see Ruggles and the dramatically revamped and improved Florida line-up on Friday, Nov. 22, when it opens its fourth MASL season at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. The Tropics home opener is Saturday, Dec. 14 at 5:05 p.m. against local rival Orlando. For ticket information, visit fltropics.com, or call 863-240-0101.