Dayton Dutch Lions’ fans are still reveling in the afterglow of the dramatic 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to open the season. The staff and players, however, have turned their attention to Florida. The league has booked them a weekend in the Sunshine State with stops in Tampa Bay and Orlando. Neither Busch Gardens nor Disney World are on the agenda, though. This is a business trip.
First on the itinerary is a stop at Plant City Stadium, where the Dutch Lions will face VSI Tampa Bay at 8:00 PM on Friday, April 26. This is Tampa Bay’s first season in the league, but the roster is not short on USL PRO experience. VSI Tampa Bay will carry a record of 3-2-0 into the contest against the Dutch Lions, including a perfect 2-0 record at home in Plant City Stadium.
Next, the Dutch Lions will square off against Orlando City on Fifth Third Field at the Florida Citrus Bowl at 7:30 PM on Saturday, April 27. Orlando currently sits atop the USL PRO standings with 10 points resulting from a 3-1-1 record. Like Dayton’s other opponent this weekend, Orlando City has an unblemished 2-0 record at home.
“It’s obviously going to be a really tough road trip with back-to-back games and both opponents occupying top spots in the table, but it’s one we’re excited for because it gives us a chance to test ourselves against the best,” said Dayton captain Joel DeLass. “We overcame some tough circumstances in our opener and hope to build off that as we head into two hostile environments and face two top-quality opponents. It won’t be easy, but if we want to find ourselves in the playoff race at the end of the season, we need to find ways to get results on the road against the best teams in the league.”
Playing in Tampa Bay and Orlando on back-to-back dates might be an exciting way for a boy band to start a national tour, but it can be perilous for a USL PRO team. Just ask the Rochester Rhinos, who lost two games in the same stadiums by a combined score of 1-6 on April 13 and 14.
Prior to the start of the season, conventional wisdom concerning a trip like this might have been to throw everything at Tampa Bay and just hope for the best against Orlando. Steal three points on the first leg of the road trip. See what happens the next night.
This might still be a logical strategy, but it would be illogical to think that taking the three points in Tampa Bay is a foregone conclusion. Head Coach Matt Weston has his team playing well. Contributions are coming from multiple players on the roster, experienced veterans and exciting young talent alike. The team’s eight goals have come from seven different players, and Alexander Horwath is once again proving to be more than serviceable in goal.
If the Dutch Lions have anything left in the tank after Friday night, it will be spent on Saturday against Orlando. The defending regular-season champions haven’t been running roughshod over their competition, but there have been stretches of spectacular play, particularly on the attack. Watson, Tan, Molino, and Dwyer have a knack for scoring goals. This could be problematic for Dayton, a team that lacks significant depth on the back line. Matt Williams, the Dayton goalie named to the current USL PRO team of the week, will be busy.
The key to Orlando match might be the Dutch Lion’s ability to exert high pressure. It’s a tactic that has been emphasized by first-year head coach Patrick Bal. It’s also a tactic to which Orlando has shown some measure of susceptibility. The Dutch Lions will have to execute it on tired legs.
It’s worth mentioning that Orlando did not beat Dayton in 2012. The teams played to draws in both competitions. In fact, the Dutch Lions were the only team against whom Orlando failed to earn at least a single victory last season. This will be Dayton’s first opportunity to try to repeat that feat in 2013.
My prediction is that Dayton will return to Ohio having earned at least three points in Florida. Additionally, keep an eye out for the Dutch Lions’ newly acquired attacker, Tjeerd Westdijk. If he’s fit enough to get some minutes, he will have an impact on one of these games.
Chad Hollingsworth is recently converted to soccer fanaticism and will do whatever he is able to grow the game in America. He has been supporting the Dutch Lions since they joined USL PRO, is season-ticket holder and president of the Oranje Legion. If you’re so inclined, follow @ChadHoll on Twitter.