Preview: D.C. United vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Black-and-Red begin the Disney Pro Soccer Classic against NASL champions Tampa Bay Rowdies

D.C. United’s pre-season heats up as the Black-and-Red is set to take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic tournament in Orlando, Fla., today. Watch online at 8:00 PM.

After spending some time back in the nation’s capital earlier this week, United’s preseason squad traveled back to Florida on Thursday to resume training in preparation for the 2013 season. The match against Tampa Bay is the first of three confirmed games in the early rounds of the tournament. United will also square off against Sporting Kansas City midweek on Feb. 13, will resume play against Montreal Impact next Saturday, Feb. 16 and then will take on a yet-to-be determined opponent on “Championship Day.”
 
The reigning NASL champions Tampa Bay Rowdies finished second in the regular season standings before defeating Minnesota Stars FC in the NASL Soccer Bowl final. The Rowdies posted 37 goals in 2012, seven coming by way of recently departed forward Daniel Antoniuk. However, Tampa Bay did retain striker Mike Ambersley, who led the Rowdies in points (25) last season, tallying eight goals and nine assists. Thirty-eight-year-old ironman Takuya Yamada, and NASL 2012 Best XI selection and the League’s leader in regular-season minutes (2,520) also returns for Tampa Bay.

“I am really proud with the intensity at practice this week, as the players have worked very hard in preparation for tomorrow’s match,” Rowdies Head Coach Ricky Hill told rowdiessoccer.com. “D.C. United has been training for some weeks now, but on the field it is 11 versus 11 and the players know how important it will be to get a good result.” 

D.C. United is coming off a watershed campaign of its own, making the playoffs for the first time in five years and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. The Black-and-Red also tallied the fourth-most goals and accumulated the most home points (40) in the League in MLS 2012. Despite the number of breakthroughs last year, United is not satisfied to rest on its laurels in 2013.

“We have not done anything,” Head Coach Ben Olsen told dcunited.com at the end of 2012. “At times we are playing some good soccer, but it still has to get much better. The job is not even close to being done.”
 
And yet, there is much to be optimistic about as the 2013 MLS season creeps closer. A young, talented core – a few years in the making – blossomed in 2012, with the Black-and-Red boasting its fourth straight MLS Rookie of the Year (ROY) finalist in as many seasons in Nick DeLeon. Two out of the other three ROY contenders, Chris Pontius and Perry Kitchen, remain key components of the Black-and-Red starting XI, with Pontius coming off an MLS Best XI season.

New additions Rafael, 20, – the youngest current Designated Player in the League – former University of Maryland standout Casey Townsend, 23, and Homegrown product Michael Seaton, 16, are just a few youngsters who will also be looking to prove themselves in the pre-season. Cap that off with never-ending form of United captain Dwayne De Rosario, and the team is shaping up nicely in the run-up to the regular season.

“We have a young coaching staff who believes in giving opportunities to young players,” United General Manager Dave Kasper told dcunited.com recently. “Ben [Olsen] is not afraid to put a young player on the field, and that’s really important in our overall philosophy…”

Coming off a 1-1 result against Swedish side Malmö FF last week, the Black-and-Red is ready to log more time on the field together in this pre-season.

“It’s good,” said De Rosario. “I mean, this time is all about fine tuning, getting back to the rhythm of things and getting back in sync with each other.”