Florida Tropics File photo

The Florida Tropics, pictured here during the 2019-20 season, will open the 2020-21 season at home Jan. 2.

The Florida Tropics Presented by Bond Clinic will start their defense of their first ever Eastern Conference championship on Saturday, Jan. 2, when the St. Louis Ambush visit the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

The 2020-21 season will mark the Tropics fifth season in the Major Arena Soccer League, which will see 11 teams compete this year. Only four teams at this point – the Tropics, St. Louis Ambush, Kansas City Comets and Dallas Sidekicks – will allow fans to attend games.

Seven other teams, including the San Diego Sockers, Tacoma Stars, Ontario Fury, Baltimore Blast, Utica City FC, Harrisburg Heat and Rochester Lancers will also play this year, but — to date — will not be able to have fans in the stands for any home games.

Six teams, headed by the defending league champion Milwaukee Wave, will be sitting out the season because of the ongoing pandemic.

The Ambush will be in town for the first of two straight weekend doubleheaders, with a second game set for Sunday, Jan. 3 at 3p.m.

The Kansas City Comets will be in town the following weekend for starts on Friday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 10, at 3 p.m. The Dallas Sidekicks will round out January’s home slate with a visit on Saturday, Jan. 16.

A special “Fan Fest” will be held Dec. 19 at the arena. Central Florida soccer fans are invited to come pick out their seats for the season and be entertained by a special intra-squad scrimmage. More details will be released soon about the event.

“We can’t wait to get back to the field and finish what we started last season,” said Coach Clay Roberts.

Florida was 18-3 when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Tropics’ three remaining regular season games and the playoffs.

“We return virtually our entire roster intact, and with the key additions we’ve made, we feel very good about where we are right now,” Roberts said. “But even with just 11 teams, they will all have strong rosters, so we will have to be at our best every night, knowing that teams will be gunning for us now.”

The league has announced dates which include six teams participating in a total of 14 games during the month of January. While the league is navigating ongoing changes and COVID-19 related restrictions, it anticipates announcing schedules on a month-to month basis, MASL official noted.

The St. Louis Ambush, Kansas City Comets, Dallas Sidekicks, San Diego Sockers, Tacoma Stars and Tropics have all committed to dates in January. Teams must play a minimum of 12 games, and can play up to a maximum of 24 games, in order to qualify for the postseason. Seedings will be based on overall winning percentage.

The regular season will run through the middle of April, with a playoff format to be announced later in the year.

Ticket information, and live-streaming options for fans to be able to watch games if they can’t attend or choose not to attend, will be released shortly. The Tropics and RP Funding Center staff, using CDC and state guidelines, have come up with a socially-distanced and safe seating arrangement that will allow approximately 1,800 fans per game to attend each home match.

Florida will finish January with road contests in St. Louis on Jan. 29 and Jan. 31.

The team returns it’s top seven scorers from last season – Ricardo Carvalho, Victor Parrieras, Zach Reget, Guilherme, Drew Ruggles, Joey Tavernese, Amtonio Manfut and Lucio Gonzaga – while adding MASL superstar Ian Bennett from the Wave, and signing free agent defender Chad Vandegriffe (Milwaukee) and forward Kiel Williams (Kansas City). Goalkeeper Hugo Silva, who was tops in the league in goals against average last year (4.14), also returns.

For more information, contact the Tropics at 862-240-0101, or visit www.fltropics.com.