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Portillos Positive in Rowdies’ Preseason Opener

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 01/09/17, 8:19AM EST

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First game since May 28 saw fullback play 70 minutes against VfL Wolfsburg


Photo courtesy 2017 Florida Cup

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Of all the minutes of action seen by Tampa Bay Rowdies players on Sunday against VfL Wolfsburg in the 2017 Florida Cup, those played by fullback Zac Portillos might have been the most significant.

After seeing a second consecutive season brought to a premature conclusion by injury after playing just five times for the Rowdies in 2016, the Colorado native went 70 minutes in the side’s first preseason outing.

“It was good,” Portillos said. “A little nervous at first, obviously, playing Wolfsburg, always a good side, and I hadn’t played in about eight months, I was nervous but I felt good, it went great.”

Portillos grew into the game, in particular performing well after the halftime break. His run toward the penalty area nine minutes into the second half drew a foul that resulted in a good free kick by Michael Nanchoff that was saved, and then released Alex Morrell with a pass over the top that created another good scoring opportunity.

Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said the original plan was for Portillos to play only the first half, but when Portillos said he felt good to continue during the break, Campbell allowed him to continue on and build his confidence and fitness.

“I’m absolutely delighted for him,” said Campbell. “He’s a cracking player and he’s had horrendous luck, and for him to come back shows how strong he is mentally. I’m really, really happy with him.”

Trailing 2-0 to a pair of goals by Wolfsburg’s Robert Hermann, the Rowdies showed a solid response in the second half as Nanchoff, Morrell and trialist Jaime Siaj all had chances denied in a good display by Wolfsburg goalkeeper Niklas Klinger. Overall, while the game ended in defeat, Campbell was pleased with a lot of what he saw from the side in the second half.

“It looked like your typical first game of preseason,” said Campbell. “I think we started pretty tentatively, obviously they [took the lead], and then ironically when they scored their second it looked like we said, ‘alright then, let’s go for it’. I know what it’s like, the players are probably wondering how long they can physically last, and then when they got the second goal it seemed to jolt us.

“We finished the first half well and then I thought we completely dominated the second half. Their goalie’s made some really good saves.”


Photo courtesy 2017 Florida Cup

With the next preseason test arriving next Saturday in the form of Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro (4 p.m. ET | Al Lang Stadium), Portillos is looking forward to continuing the build up to the Rowdies’ first season in the USL.

“It’s a big year for the club as a whole, and this club has been great to me, helping, so I’m just going to try my best to stay healthy and give it everything I’ve got,” Portillos said. “It’s a big year, so I think we’re all focused on doing the best that we can for all of our fans and the club.”

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