Jake Nutting takes a look at the Tampa Bay Rowdies first win of the second half of the NASL season...
"The three points are vital for us from a confidence perspective. How we got them doesn’t matter now because we have them,” --Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill
I think just one dominant performance every once in awhile would be just grand. Unfortunately, Ricky Hill's Rowdies rarely seem to comply with that particular desire. Once again this season, the Tampa Bay Rowdies managed to have the game decided in the final moments. Luckily for Ralph's Mob and the 4,000 some odd fans at Al Lang, a waning moments decider resulted in a full three points against the Atlanta Silverbacks.
The game was almost an exact mirror of the May 24th 3-2 victory over rival Ft Lauderdale Strikers. Both matches saw the Rowdies go down 2-0 in the first half despite having all the possession and creating all the chances. However, both goals allowed against the Strikers could be chalked up to positioning mistakes by fill in goalkeeper Cody Mizell. Against the Silverbacks, the Rowdies were punished on a beauty of a strike from 30 yards out by Junior Burgos in the 27th minute. Ideally, you would love to see the midfielders track back, see the center backs step to close down space, but really all you can do is tip your hat when a player places a ball so perfectly from that far out.
The second goal allowed was less excusable. The same problem the Rowdies backline had in the Spring season reared its ugly head in the 42nd minute when Deon McCaulay slotted a goal right between the legs of returning starting goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Similar to the April 26th loss to Atlanta, the Rowdies defense was once again beaten by a long ball over the top. Left back Anthony Wallace failed to track back in time to help squash the counter, and JP Rodrigues failed to communicate to Takuya Yamada that McCaulay was sneaking in behind him.
The recently signed center back Tamika Mkandawire, "Tam" for short, impressed after subbing in for an injured Yamada in the second half. He looked like a much more athletic option at center back, proved capable in some one-on-one situations, and was smooth distributing the ball out of the back. Fingers crossed that as he works his way into the starting lineup, because he could shore up some of those back line dilemmas.
The most monumental difference between this 3-2 victory and the one against the Strikers earlier in the year is something that should encourage most fans: all three goals this time around were scored by the Rowdies forwards. Against the Strikers only the fullbacks were able to find the back of the net. Along with the defensive lapses a lot of focus was put on the lack goals produced in the Spring, especially given the amount of proven goal scoring talent either returning or brought in during the off-season. Against Atlanta, though, Georgi Hristov looked to be back to his 2013 MVP form by netting a brace, including the game winning diving header on a low driven corner from Evans Frimpong in the 90th minute.
Casey Townsend, a former first round MLS SuperDraft pick, looked fairly dangerous all night and managed to score his first goal as a Rowdie to kick off the comeback in the 58th minute. Townsend made a good heads-up play poaching a goal after Silverbacks goalkeeper Derby Carillo, who looked shaky on nearly every shot and cross he faced, couldn't hold onto a cross delivered by captain Frankie Sanfilippo. If the forwards for Tampa Bay can continue to produce multiple goals, which they were not able to do one single time in the Spring, then the defensive lapses may not be so detrimental to the Fall campaign.
Going forward, though, the club finds itself in a familiar situation, that of having to evaluate the options at central midfield. Despite showing signs of progression as a player over the Spring, Shane Hill had one of his worst games in a long time against Atlanta. Earlier in the week the club posted a story of the blossoming chemistry between Hill and the other central midfielder, Darel Russell. But last night it looked as though Hill had zero chemistry with anyone on his team. Multiple times he sent passes to areas where no Rowdies player was or had even considered going.
Despite the late heroics, many Rowdies fans are left with the taste of dirt in their mouths. And that dirt, unfortunately, is coming directly from the brand new playing surface at Al Lang Stadium. Fans watching the game online could be forgiven for thinking the pitch looked waterlogged from a typical Florida thunderstorm. In reality, that was dirt being kicked up on every slide tackle, clearance, pass, or shot last night. After many complaints this year, the city of St. Petersburg agreed to resurface the field at Al Lang at a cost of $250,000 to the citizens. Sadly, after only two weeks that new surface is starting to look like a sand trap at a local two-bit golf course. Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is alleging the deterioration of the field is the direct result of neglect on the part of the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, a non-profit organization in charge of all maintenance and upkeep at Al Lang. A few weeks ago, Edwards filed a lawsuit against the Baseball Commission regarding the general problem of basic maintenance needs not being fulfilled. But after this latest issue with the field, he has filed an injunction to compel the Baseball Commission to fulfill its contractual obligations. That court date is set for Wednesday July 16. Dramatics on and off the field. What more could a fan ask for?
Jake Nutting is a graduate of Brooklyn College currently working as an assistant video editor at Fig Productions in New York City. On weekends, when the sun is out you can find me kicking a ball around on the south side of Prospect Park. When the weather is uncooperative you'll probably find me buried in book or in front of movie screen. Avid Tampa Bay Rowdies fan. Rodney Marsh over Pelé forever and ever.