There is no place like home.
As the saying goes, there is no place like home - especially in the Major Arena Soccer League.
Winning at home has been the lifeblood of success.
Case in point:
The eight playoff teams during the 2021-22 regular season registered a 65-23-7 mark at their home venues, winning 72.11 percent of the time (in contrast, the four teams look from the outside posted an 18-27-3 mark, emerging victorious 40.63 percent of the time).
Tonight, the Florida Tropics' charge will need to do better than 72-percent success. They will need to be perfect if they have any aspirations of reaching the championship series, winning both its games - regulation and extra-time contests - against the Kansas City Comets in the semifinal series at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Fla. at 6 p.m.
Florida, which boasted the second-best regular season record (18-3-2) while winning the Eastern Division, finds itself against the wall after dropping an 8-7 decision at KC last Saturday.
No one has to remind Tropics head coach Clay Roberts what his team needs to do to stay alive in the playoffs and playing at the RP Funding Center will play a fundamental role.
"I do believe that our home atmosphere, the support that comes from our environment, helps us feel confident," he said. "We'll be looking for that on Saturday."
The Tropics were 9-1-2 at home this past season.
“The beginning part of our season we had like 10 home games, and we ended up going like 9-1,” he said. “It’s confidence. It's comfortability that comes with that, the familiarity of your daily routine. This is part of our daily training.
"When you go on the road, like the second part of our season, you have travel, you have hotels, you have meals to try to find. You have less practice time. You're in an environment that is not familiar to you.
"So, the importance of home field advantage is massive. There's a constant debate that should the higher seed have the choice: 'Do they want to play on the road, the first game, or home?' We're in a position where we went on the road and dropped the first game. For us to make a championship, we've got to win one game and then win an extra time game. To be able to do that and in our venue with our fans gives us a little bit of boost to be able to pull it off. The opponent now has to come to our field and feel the same emotions and go through the daily routine that we did in game one."
Securing the Ron Newman Cup has been the Tropics' priority. They have registered an impressive 46-9-2 regular season mark over the past three campaigns but have no championships to show for their efforts.
Not only does Florida want to reach the final – the survivor will play the winner of the San Diego-Chihuahua series - but it also wants to take the final victory lap of the MASL season.
"Obviously, that's the goal every year," Roberts said. "No one comes into the season saying 'Oh, well, let's just be happy making the playoffs.' The reason the owner has put the resources on the table and has had the support of giving his support in hopes of not only reaching a championship [final] but winning a championship. We know what we need to do on Saturday."
Was the loss at Kansas City just a speed bump or a major roadblock in the Tropics goal?
Roberts offered no excuses for his squad's performance at KC last week.
"Our matchup with Kansas City is a great matchup," he said. "It's the division leader against the division leader, and it was always going to be a very, very motivated game. There are two different styles of play involved. We made mistakes and they capitalized on it. We didn't capitalize on their mistakes as many times as they did. So, they deserved to win the game. We get another chance to correct those mistakes."
The Tropics coach said that he has gone through "a lot of film since last game, broken down with areas to focus in on and try and limit those mistakes."
"We feel ultimately we let them win the game," Roberts added.
In the first game of the series, Comets defenders took center stage in an 8-7 home triumph.
Ray Lee earned first-star honors with a scintillating three-goal, two assist performance (he had seven goals during the regular season). Another backline performer, James Togbah, added two goals.
"Both teams have huge threats on the offensive end and both defensive strategies were to try to eliminate those, which naturally has to free up another player," Robert said. "Both of us have good goal-scoring defenders. So, I'm not surprised that goals came from defenders, especially with the defenders that make up our two teams."
This year's MASL playoffs have been played at a high intensity.
Of the 10 60-minute playoff matches that have been played, six have been decided by two goals or fewer.
It has even been tighter in both semifinal series as a pair of one-goal results have decided the first legs. The Chihuahua Savage edged the defending champion San Diego Sockers at home on Monday, April 19 in extra time, 7-6.
"I think excitement coming out of the COVID year, teams that did not get to participate are feeling back to normal," Roberts said. "It's good to have the majority of the league back in the arenas, to have the fans back. It gives it more excitement, which lets the players be more passionate about it.
"With the majority of the teams back competing, everyone wants to represent their team well and are excited to be back playing. I think that all plays into the quality of play that's been produced this year. The excitement of it was coming down to the last moment, the last week there were a number of teams that could get in and that just speaks to the overall quality of the league. This season so I do think the level of play has been high and you know. That's kudos to everybody."
Roberts hopes he will be able to say kudos to the Florida Tropics on Saturday night. Will see if his team’s home-field advantage pays off.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.