Photo Courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rowdies have had a rollercoaster start to the season as consistency has been difficult to come by. That has largely been due to the club's poor form on the road, with the Rowdies having lost three consecutive road games since opening the new season with victory at North Carolina FC.
With the side in the middle of a three-game road trip that continues on Friday night against Penn FC (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) the team is motivated to get things turned in the right direction away from Al Lang Stadium.
“We’re obviously on the road for the next couple of weeks,” said Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell. “We knew we had a tough start to the season with six of the first nine matches on the road so we’re all determined for when we go up to Penn.”
The biggest road issue for the Rowdies has been a lack of goals. Since a three-goal performance against North Carolina in their road opener, the side has been shut out in trips to Louisville City FC, the New York Red Bulls II and Charleston Battery, leaving Campbell with a stark assessment of his team’s road performances.
“The main thing is that we haven’t converted our opportunities in any of the road games we’ve had so far this season,” said Campbell. “In pretty much all the road matches we’ve had multiple chances, and for whatever reason, we’ve not been able to convert them and everybody knows goals change games.”
Last week’s 1-0 loss to the Charleston Battery was an example of that lack of chance conversion as the 2017 USL Eastern Conference Semifinalists managed just two shots on target from 10 overall. That's well below their average of 50 percent shooting accuracy on the season far, and has made it very clear what Tampa Bay needs to work on ahead of Friday's match in Pennsylvania's capital.
“We need to be more clinical in front of goal. Last Saturday our defensive organization was pretty good, and we had the first real chance in the game and unfortunately, we couldn’t take it and they did,” said Campbell.
FRONT TO BACK DEFENSE KEY FOR BATTERY: The Charleston Battery may not have been getting the headlines that Louisville City FC has, but the perennial playoff contenders have been steadily getting results and find themselves sitting on a four-match unbeaten run heading into a Southern Derby battle against the Charlotte Independence on Saturday (7 p.m. | Match Center | ESPN+). If there is one key to that run it's been the manner in which the club's defense rebounded from its toughest defeat of the season, having only conceded two goals in the four-game run after back-to-back shutouts against ATL UTD 2 and the Tampa Bay Rowdies in their last two outings.
“I think we’ve played very well defensively, from the back to the middle, and up front. We’ve had a change in shape, but it hasn’t really been that,” said Battery Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser. “It’s been more about how we’ve processed the games defensively. We’ve really pressured teams; even on the road, we didn’t sit back. I think that’s really helped.”
That change in shape hasn’t been irrelevant, switching to a back three has allowed Charleston to add an extra man forward. While that's provided more edge up front, a collective defensive effort has meant the team hasn't sacrificed anything to achieve that.
“I think the shape has helped us in the attacking end. We’ve added that extra player up front and that’s helped us. We have that guy up there who can pick up the free balls, which has actually helped create more space for Ataulla [Guerra],” said Anhaeuser. “The guys are doing very well. They’re very comfortable with it. The players that we have are fitting into the formation very well, but now we have options as we move through the season.
“You never want to say we’re going to do one thing or the other. Now we have a couple of things we can do and maybe even adjust in-game if we need to. Right now, the guys are happy and they’re performing well. We’ve worked on it in training and they’re showing that they’ve grasped it very well.”
Guerra has definitely been a beneficiary of the formation change. Leading the team with three goals on the season so far, the Trinidad & Tobago international sees that change of shape, the most dramatic change in his three years at the club, as part of his team’s success.
“It was a new system and we never played it before during my time here. We were working on it every day on the training ground and eventually we started getting better at it,” said Guerra. “It’s working for us well in the games. We’re just going to stick to our game plan and do what Coach tells us to do. The front three, we just go out there and work hard for each other.”
INDY READY TO RESPOND: After falling to FC Cincinnati on Wednesday night in the opening game of what shaped up as a crucial week for Indy Eleven, the side's clash on Saturday’s match against another regional rival, Louisville City FC (12 p.m. | Match Center | ESPN+) is now looking even more crucial than at the start of the week.
That has left Head Coach Martin Rennie looking for an improved performance on Saturday after the side conceded a season-high three goals in its defeat against FCC.
“It's always disappointing to lose. I think it's a little bit frustrating that we lost goals at the start of each half; that's something that we haven't done,” said Rennie. “Even throughout the whole season we've only lost two goals and we lost three tonight, so that was disappointing. It was certainly an exciting game for the fans. Lots of goals, lots of action, lots of entertainment, lots of excitement. From a coaching perspective, I would've expected that it'll be an improved performance when we come back to it on Saturday.”
These double-match weeks take a strain on players, but it’s also a strain on coaches who have to try and focus on both games in training with little time in between to work on a new system.
“We've mainly been focusing on Cincinnati, but the coaches obviously look ahead and we know that Louisville is a good team. They've started the season well,” said Rennie. “The good thing is that it's only a couple of days until we get to play. That means we can get [Wednesday night's result] out of our system; We need to come back with real energy and focus. They'll be coming in fresh, but we'll be able to make sure all the guys are ready.”
With just two days between games, the immediate focus for Rennie has been to get the team physically ready for the match against the defending USL Cup champions.
“We'll have to do our best to recover quickly. It's a quick turnaround certainly coming up against a good team,” said Rennie. “What I always thought is at the start of the season we've had quite a hard run of games and overall we've done well. [Wednesday was] the first night I thought we haven't improved on the previous. We need to get back to that improvement, and I'm sure we will.”