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Championship Return to Play Preview – Group H

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/26/20, 1:05PM EDT

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Miami and Tampa Bay prepare to renew rivalry, while Battery aim to continue playoff streak


The Charleston Battery and Tampa Bay Rowdies were both playoff sides in 2019, but could receive a challenge from Miami FC in Group H. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

The group assignments for Groups E through H ahead of the USL Championship’s resumption of the 2020 season are being made on Friday, giving us a chance to take a first look at each of the teams as they get ready to return to action.

Finally, we look at Group H, which sees Sunshine State rivals the Miami FC and Tampa Bay Rowdies placed alongside Atlanta United 2 and a Charleston Battery side that is looking to maintain the longest playoff streak in the Championship.

Atlanta United 2
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L vCHS 0-1 [3/8]
Head Coach: Stephen Glass
2019 Season: 9-17-8, 35pts
OVERVIEW
Atlanta will be considered an underdog to advance to the playoffs against what look like three strong opponents but the talent in the young squad could make an impact on the road to the postseason. Edged out by the Charleston Battery in their opener, the biggest challenge for the side whether its defense is going to be able to stand up to the talent both Tampa Bay and Miami possess. After conceding more than two goals per game last year, it’s going to be an uphill struggle if that doesn’t improve.
Player to Watch
Modou Jadama
Returning to Atlanta – where he grew up playing for Norcross Soccer Academy – after stints in Tulsa and Portland to begin his professional career, Jadama is likely to be key to the defensive improvement the side is looking for this season. At 6-foot-1, Jadama isn’t necessarily as imposing as other center backs in the group, but his experience – which included playing for the Timbers in Major League Soccer as well as his time with T2 – is going to be invaluable.
Charleston Battery
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W vATL 0-1 [3/8]
Head Coach: Mike Anhaeuser
2019 Season: 11-10-13, 46pts; Eliminated in Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
OVERVIEW
Even as the Championship has grown and evolved, the Battery have been able to keep up with the times, making them the lone side to reach the postseason in every season of the Championship’s history. The counterattacking style the side has leant on could be the weapon that counts most this season toward that end, offering a contrast to the more possession-oriented Miami and Tampa Bay. That contrast could also offer up some highly interesting tactical battles in the battle for the group’s playoff berths.
Player to Watch
Zeiko Lewis
The Bermuda international helped the Battery do enough last season to ensure another postseason berth, but this year the continuity in the squad could see Lewis become even more productive. The 26-year-old’s ability from set pieces is also going to be an important piece for Charleston, which sits fourth in the Championship with 15 goals off dead ball assists over the past three seasons.
The Miami FC
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L @STL 4-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Nelson Vargas
2019 Season: N/A
OVERVIEW
Miami got a tough introduction to life in the Championship on the road to Saint Louis FC, but the memory of that game will be well in the rear-view mirror when the time to get in gear arrives. That said, the newcomers are going to have to get past one of two perennial playoff contenders in Tampa Bay and Charleston to reach the playoffs at the first attempt, and while Romario Williams will likely be looking forward to playing two of his former clubs in the Battery and Atlanta, the lapses that occurred against STLFC can’t be repeated.
Player to Watch
Sebastian Velasquez
Velasquez has been a standout playmaker in the Championship before, both helping Real Monarchs SLC to the Regular Season Title in 2017 and El Paso Locomotive FC to the Western Conference Final of the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs. Against two sides that look solid defensively in Tampa Bay and Charleston, he’s going to need to produce consistently to put Miami in the playoff conversation, a challenge he’s likely looking forward to.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W @NY 0-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Neill Collins
2019 Season: 16-8-10, 58pts; Eliminated in Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
OVERVIEW
Tampa Bay earned a good 1-0 victory on the road against the New York Red Bulls II to start their fourth season in the Championship, and on paper they should be considered the favorites to finish top of this group. The biggest reason for that confidence is not only that the club looks to have good depth throughout the squad, but on top of that the high-level performers are just that. Captain Sebastian Guenzatti won’t match the totals from the best season of his career in 2019, but equivalent numbers in terms of strike rate would be ideal as the Rowdies’ defense looks a tough one to break down.
Player to Watch
Forrest Lasso
Brought in to be the centerpiece of a revamped defense, Lasso lived up to the early billing in a tough road victory against a good New York Red Bulls II side this season. Tampa Bay’s foundation under Head Coach Neill Collins has been built on a solid defense – the Rowdies were one of four teams in the Championship last season to average a goals-against average under 1.00 – and Lasso’s presence alongside Aaron Guillen and Jordan Scarlett is going to try and emulate that this campaign.

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