Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The 2017 Suncoast Invitational kicks off on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium as the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies play host to Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, and the Montreal Impact and D.C. United square off to open the tournament’s second edition in downtown St. Petersburg.
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Philadelphia Union
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET | Tickets: http://bit.ly/2lV0vf2
Tampa Bay continues its preseason on Saturday after having previously taken part in the 2017 Florida Cup in January, and faced Orlando City SC in a closed scrimmage last week that saw a number of new faces start coming together for the side. The Rowdies’ performance against Orlando was a positive one, according to new forward Darwin Jones, who said the side “kept pushing at every point and we took the game to them.”
The Union also scrimmaged with Orlando this week, and saw new addition Jay Simpson find the net in addition to returnees Ilsinho and C.J. Sapong. After reaching the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Union have bolstered their squad with the likes of Simpson, and former U.S. international Oguchi Onyewu and former Rowdies midfielder Fafa Picault as they look to make another leap forward in the MLS Eastern Conference this year. After taking a 2-0 win in the same tournament against Tampa Bay a year ago, Philadelphia will be aiming for a similar result this time around.
Player to Watch: Leo Fernandes, Tampa Bay Rowdies
An offseason addition to Tampa Bay’s squad, Fernandes will likely get to go up against some of his former teammates on Saturday night as the ex-Union midfielder gets acclimated to his new environment. Fernandes made 32 appearances for the Union during his time with the club, while also playing on loan for the Harrisburg City Islanders and for Bethlehem Steel FC in the USL, but this year makes a fresh start with the Rowdies.
Montreal Impact vs. D.C. United
Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET | Tickets: http://bit.ly/2lV0vf2
D.C. United will try to replicate the success it found in its first trip to Florida for preseason when it took two wins and a draw from three games at IMG Academy earlier this month. The last of those contests saw D.C. earn a 3-2 victory against Swedish top-flight club Jönköpings Södra IF behind goals from Marcelo, Luciano Acosta, and newcomer Sebastian Le Toux. That contest also saw offseason Homegrown signing Ian Harkes in the starting lineup, with the reigning MAC Hermann Trophy holder and son of U.S. soccer legend and FC Cincinnati Head Coach John Harkes a rookie to watch in the upcoming season.
Montreal, meanwhile, had a hard go of it in midweek in its last preseason outing as it was handed a 4-1 defeat by the Chicago Fire. After reaching the Eastern Conference Final of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Impact will be looking to shake off a lethargic start against the Fire, as a late penalty kick by Nacho Piatti proved the only consolation to a performance captain Patrice Bernier called “a wake-up call” for the side.
Player to Watch: Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, Montreal Impact
A Homegrown signing this offseason after starring for FC Montreal last season in the USL, Tabla enters with plenty of advance notice after being named the Canadian U20 Player of the Year this past December. The attacking threat will be aiming to earn his firm MLS minutes early this season, and positive performances over the next week could stake his claim as Head Coach Mauro Biello assesses his squad for the new year.