LAND O'LAKES — When the Rowdies take the field Saturday against USF (7:30 p.m., USF Soccer Stadium, Tampa) for their final preseason game, the starting lineup will look almost identical to the one coach Paul Dalglish plans to use six days later in the team's U.S. Soccer Federation Division II season opener at Crystal Palace Baltimore.
"I think from our point of view, we're going to try to play our strongest team," Dalglish said.
Don't expect the Rowdies to substitute liberally, either. Dalglish wants to see how his starters perform from kickoff to the final whistle.
"It's our last fitness exercise before the season starts," he said. "There's no substitute for 90 minutes in a game situation."
The Rowdies are 2-0-2 in the preseason, including victories in their past two games, against MLS's Philadelphia Union (1-0, March 19) and UCF (3-0, March 26). Dalglish is expecting a complete effort in the final tuneup before the regular season.
"I want to see as close as we can possibly be to 100 percent ready to go. I think I'm looking for a top, top performance from the guys," Dalglish said.
"I think Saturday is where, from my point of view, everything we've been working on comes together. We're looking for a high-tempo, quality performance. Just watching the guys in training this week, it looks like we're ready to go."
CAPTAIN, OH CAPTAIN: Julian Valentin will serve as captain, a role with which the center back is familiar.
Valentin was the captain of U.S. Soccer's residency program in Bradenton as a teen and also was captain at Wake Forest, where he helped lead the Demon Deacons to the 2007 national championship as a senior.
"Julian's a natural leader," Dalglish said. "He's done it before. He's young (23), but he's got great experience at a young age."
Dalglish said Valentin exemplifies his vision of filling his roster with quality people as well as players.
"Julian is a credit to the organization, both on and off the field," Dalglish said. "He's never going to get in a situation where he's going to embarrass the club."
Also, midfielder Adam Nowland was named assistant captain.
NEWEST ROWDIE: Former MLS player Erik Ustruck, who signed Tuesday, was a teammate of Dalglish's for the 2007 season in Houston. Ustruck's rookie year was Dalglish's last in MLS.
Ustruck, a former Santa Clara standout, played midfield and forward in college but also is extremely capable as a defender.
"He's a great signing for the Rowdies because of his versatility. He can play a number of positions for us," Dalglish said.
Where Ustruck lines up will depend on the opponent, the game plan and the health of the lineup.
"He gives me options," Dalglish said.
UPCOMING event: The Rowdies' open house and "Meet Your Seat Day" are Saturday and Sunday at Steinbrenner Field, corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Tampa.
Fans can get a look at the field dimensions and make season-ticket purchases and upgrades. A few Rowdies players will be on hand Saturday, and the entire team will attend Sunday.
The event starts at 10 a.m. Saturday for season ticket holders and those who placed a deposit for season tickets. The public is invited from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Staff writer Bryan Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org