On Thursday night, Orlando City B will host the Tampa Bay Rowdies for their second matchup of the 2017 USL season. Everyone knows that there is bad blood between the two local rivals: the Lions will be playing for pride and for points when they take the pitch Thursday night.
“It’s a huge game. Obviously there is more at stake than points, it’s local pride,” Head Coach Anthony Pulis said in training this week. “We know how much this means to the supporters, the hardcore supporters who have been here since Day One.”
The rivalry between Tampa and Orlando has always been important, going back to the days before Orlando City joined MLS. Now, Tampa Bay is in a bid of their own for MLS expansion and that tension only makes both teams want to prove themselves more.
“I think there will definitely be a little bit of added spice to it. Obviously they’re trying to get their MLS expansion franchise and we’re already there,” Pulis said. “So, for sure, I’m imagining they’re going to bring down a few supporters themselves. Hopefully we can get a good crowd and I’m sure it will be a good game.”
Amongst the faces on Tampa Bay’s roster is Luke Boden, who made over 100 USL and MLS appearances for Orlando City in his five years with the club. Lewis Neal, who played with Boden through the years, said that he is excited to play against his old friend.
“Obviously a very good friend of mine,” Neal said. “But obviously as soon as that whistle goes we’ll both be forgetting about that and wanting to win the game for sure.”
Orlando City B dropped their season opener when they traveled down I-4 to face the Rowdies in Al Lang Stadium. But that was the first match for a lot of new OCB players, and Pulis believes his squad has improved a lot since that first match. Having home field advantage doesn’t hurt either.
“I think we’re a lot better team than we were at the start of the season,” Pulis said. “We have certainly improved since then. And hopefully we can perform similarly to what we did against Pittsburgh the other night, but take our chances.”
Pulis doesn’t want his players to get caught up in ‘playing for the occasion’ instead of focusing on the match. But he knows that this is important to the fans. And he wants to get that win.
“We want to make the players aware that it’s a local derby that means a lot to the supporters and the city of Orlando,” Pulis said. “I think if we approach it with the right mindset and the same mentality with what we did against Pittsburgh than we should be okay.”