LAND O'LAKES — As the Tampa Bay Rowdies reach the midpoint of their preseason, their focus will begin to turn.
Tampa Bay has three exhibition games, two ties and last week's 1-0 win over MLS's Philadelphia Union, under its belt. Coach Paul Dalglish has emphasized getting his team in shape for a grueling 30-game season, so this week will end the rough part, four weeks dedicated mostly to fitness.
After Friday's preseason game against UCF, Dalglish expects to give his team two days off, then begin preparing for its first U.S. Soccer Federation Division II regular-season game, April 16 in Baltimore.
"You saw their fitness level after just three weeks in the Philadelphia game," Dalglish said. "After four tough weeks, I expect them to be at nearly 100 percent. Then it's more of a case of fine-tuning before the Baltimore game, the little things that make a big difference, trying to create more goal-scoring opportunities."
The team's training schedule has included five hours of work a day, including morning weight training sessions, afternoon on-field sessions and yoga once a week.
"The early signs are very good, but preseason means nothing if we don't go and put on a performance in the first game of the season against Baltimore," Dalglish said. "It's encouraging, but you have to have the humility to think you haven't done it already. We've got good players; we've got good attitude."
LOCAL STANDOUT BURT STANDS TALL: Northeast High alum Chad Burt impressed the team at a local combine enough to earn a training camp invitation on a trial basis, and last week the team signed him to a contract.
Dalglish said Burt's goal in a 2-2 tie with MLS's Dallas on March 12 — he fired a free kick from 30 yards out through a small gap in the defensive wall — is a "goal-of-the-year contender."
"It's going to take some goal to beat that one," Dalglish said. "For anybody to make the team, it's going to be very tough, but Chad did it, and that shows how highly we think of him."
Burt, a 22-year-old midfielder, played for the Carolina Railhawks of the USL First Division last year.
NEXT PRESEASON GAME: The Rowdies play their fourth preseason game, and first away from Tampa, at 7 p.m. Friday against UCF at the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex, Lake Myrtle Park Road, Auburndale. Admission is free.
free KICKS: Though their time training at Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex has been viewed a success, the Rowdies are working on moving their practice site to Hillsborough County once the regular season opens. One potential site is Shimberg Park in Tampa. …The Rowdies might add a sixth preseason game April 3. Details should come by the end of the week.
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached email@example.com