The stage is set for the opening weekend of the 2017 United Soccer League season as Orlando City B prepares to make another run at a playoff spot. In their inaugural season, the young Lions managed to finish in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the playoffs, with the side losing in the first round to the eventual 2016 champions, New York Red Bulls II.
OCB’s opponents tonight will be none other than the Tampa Bay Rowdies, as the young Lions travel west on I-4 to play in Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. The two clubs have not met since 2014, when Orlando City was playing in USL PRO, and the Rowdies were in the North American Soccer League. That match ended in a 4-1 win for City, as the Lions advanced to the next round of the U.S Open Cup.
The Rowdies will be playing in their first ever USL match on Saturday, as the club made the move to its new league from the NASL this past off-season. They bolster a solid squad of players, including long-time City player, Luke Boden, who made 151 appearances for OCSC since he joined in 2011.
Other notable players are goalkeeper Matt Pickens, former Orlando City MLS striker Martin Paterson, and new signing DeShorn Brown — a talented former Colorado Rapids forward. Midfielder Leo Fernandes is a former Philadelphia Union player. Their best-known player is 34-year-old Joe Cole, a former star with Chelsea in the EPL and England international. He was named to the NASL Best XI in 2016.
This season, the OCB squad will have a couple familiar faces returning to the lineup, including leading goal scorer Michael Cox, who tallied 11 goals in 2016. Pierre Da Silva is another player who had a tremendous 2016 season and will be a player to watch on Saturday after being loaned to the reserve side on Friday, along with eight other players.
New additions to the OCB squad will be keen on making an early impression for Head Coach Anthony Pulis, and their first test will be a tough one. Look for several first teamers to start tonight. The back line may be fully made up of first-team players loaned down, as Pulis could start PC, Tommy Redding, Conor Donovan, and Kevin Alston. Player/coach Lewis Neal, a former MLS Lion, is likely to lead the defensive midfield. Da Silva and Richie Laryea could start in the midfield as well, and Hadji Barry could pair with Cox at the top of the formation.
Orlando City B
Goalkeepers: Earl Edwards Jr., Jake Fenlason.
Defenders: Kevin Alston, Conor Donovan, Tommy Redding, Zach Ellis Hayden, Jules Youmeni, David Norris, Scott Thomsen, Zach Carroll, Fernando Timbo, PC, Leonardo Pereira.
Midfielders: Richie Laryea, Lewis Neal, Danny Deakin, Jordan Schweitzer, Paul Clowes, Austin Martz, Ryley Kraft, Joe Gallardo Jr., Pierre Da Silva.
Forwards: Hadji Barry, Ben Polk, Albert Dikwa, Michael Cox.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Goalkeepers: Matt Pickens, Akira Fitzgerald, Nico Campbell.
Defenders: Luke Boden, Neill Collins, Darnell King, Damion Lowe, Tamika Mkandawire, Kyle Porter, Zac Portillos.
Midfielders: Justin Chavez, Joe Cole, Leo Fernandes, Darwin Jones, Alex Morrell, Michael Nanchoff, Keith Savage, Marcel Schafer, Martin Vingaard.
Forwards: Deshorn Brown, Georgi Hristov, Martin Paterson.