TAMPA — The Bolton Wanderers arrived in Florida on Sunday for their three-game United States preseason trip with plenty to accomplish.
The English Premier League club's swing opens tonight against second-division FC Tampa Bay at Al Lang Field. Bolton faces Orlando City of the third-division USL Pro league Sunday and Houston of first-division MLS on Wednesday.
And for a team that spent most of last season among the first-division EPL's top half before a late slide left it 14th, Bolton is eager to get back on the field and make sure this season is different.
"I think with five games to go, we secured our (spot in the EPL) so maybe we just weren't tough enough as a team because we were safe," Bolton captain Kevin Davies said of last season. "That's not really acceptable, and it's something we want to learn from."
Last season, Bolton made a similar three-game preseason trip to North America, playing third-division teams Charlotte and Charleston and MLS' Toronto.
"We had some good games there last year so we'll be looking for the same, really," Davies said.
Bolton will be without midfielder Stuart Holden, a U.S. national team player out until at least September with a knee injury.
As a club, Bolton has played in the EPL since 2001. Before then, it struggled, even being relegated to the fourth division in 1987.
Despite recent success, the Wanderers still play in the shadows of nearby Manchester United and Manchester City. And Bolton has spent the most seasons in the top division without winning a championship (72). But the structure of the British soccer pyramid, with its relegation system, still gives clubs such as Bolton hope every preseason.
"We usually go into those games as the underdogs," defender Zat Knight said. "But when you do go in there as underdogs, they might take their foot off the gas and feel that they've won the game already. We've beaten Man U. We've beaten Man City. So yes, they are a rich club. But that's all a part of the premiership, where a smaller team can beat a bigger team. We're established in the premiership for a reason."
Last season, Bolton advanced to the semifinals of the FA Cup, an English tournament involving teams at all levels, before losing 5-0 to Stoke City. After that, the club went 1-5 in EPL play.
"We have no excuses for the way we finished," Davies said. "The semifinal defeat took a lot out of everyone emotionally. I think everyone was disappointed, and to come back from that was really hard.
"Maybe we can find ourselves in the position where we were prior to those games … and maybe push higher."