As FC Tampa Bay reaches the midway point of its preseason schedule, we take a look at the NASL Division 2 team's new faces, what to expect from new coach Ricky Hill and what's not carrying over from last season.
Skinny on Hill
Hill, a Rowdies player/coach in the early 1990s, is in his first American Division 2 head coaching job. He promises to offer a style of play that will be "very pleasing to the eye."
Instead of using the width of the field, which failed remarkably last season under then-coach Paul Dalglish, Hill emphasizes moving the ball forward through traffic, which seems to play to his personnel's strength.
Also, Hill's mild-mannered approach is endearing him to players. "Ricky is a great motivator," forward Mike Ambersley said. "He's really positive. You know if you make a mistake, he's not going to dog you. He's a calming influence."
Hill is still deciding his formation, but it will include at least two forwards.
Three newcomers to watch
D Frankie Sanfilippo: He was a captain for Carolina and Rochester in Division 2 and has a good shot at being one in Tampa Bay. The 29-year-old provides leadership along a restructured back from the right outside back position.
F Mike Ambersley: The 5-foot-9 forward, who scored 11 goals last year for hometown team St. Louis, will be fun to watch. He is quick, creative with the ball at his feet and moves well without it. His style is a good fit for Hill's system, so he should get plenty of opportunities to score.
M Tsuyoshi Yoshitake: The 29-year-old Japanese native, known as Yoshi to teammates, is an offensive-minded midfielder who will give the offense plenty of push from the right-outside mid position. He is quick with the ball and will be a pacesetter as the team drives into the offensive third.
Three players you won't see
M Long Tan: One of Tampa Bay's most talented young players is the first to move on to MLS. The 22-year-old was in the training and preseason camps of the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are moving from Division 2 to MLS. He was part of a trade that brought Jonny Steele and Ricardo Sanchez to Tampa Bay in July.
M Jonny Steele: The player with one year on a contract that was among the team's largest was sent to Carolina on loan. He didn't fit into Tampa Bay's long-term plans considering the money he might command after this season.
M Ricardo Sanchez: The club didn't pick up its option on his contract, which was negotiated when he was with Vancouver. Tampa Bay made an attempt to restructure the contract to keep him here, but he wasn't interested.
Preseason's biggest question
How quickly can this team mesh? Turnover is a part of life at the D2 level, and the team has many new faces.
Eight of the 16 signed players are returnees, but midfielder Jeremy Christie (hip surgery) is a huge question mark and defender Yendry Diaz (groin) is uncertain for the regular-season opener on April 9. So there are opportunities for players in on trials to make the team, which will likely field 21 to 23 players.
Last weekend the team drew 1-all with Swedish First Division club BK Hacken, which had beaten Fort Lauderdale in the preseason.
"Our chemistry is way better than last year," said midfielder Chad Burt. "It feels like we've been playing together for years."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at email@example.com