ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 31, 2019) – There’s no getting around it. The Tampa Bay Rowdies dropped two points at home Saturday night, settling for a scoreless draw against visiting Loudoun United FC. On paper, the Rowdies should have won. On the field, only the Rowdies ever looked capable of winning the match. Continuing the unbeaten start to the season is nice, but the frustration probably outweighs that for now.
Here’s Three Things from the match…
1. At one end, great
The Tampa Bay Rowdies kept a third clean sheet in four matches to start the season, the best defensive record in the 36-team USL Championship. Only one other team in the league (Ottawa Fury FC) has only conceded once this year, but Ottawa has only played two matches, compared to the Rowdies four.
Tampa Bay goalkeeper John McCarthy leads the league in clean sheets but is only tied for 30th in saves with four this year. The Rowdies defensive effort has suffocated opponents this year to the point that McCarthy rarely even has to make a save. The only goal the Rowdies have allowed this year came on a set piece in Saint Louis.
Loudoun United FC recorded five shots on the night, only one of which was actually on target. That effort came in the 52nd minute and was not a dangerous chance.
Tampa Bay’s center back trio of Tarek Morad, Pape Diakite and Caleb Richards combined for 14 clearances.
If the Rowdies continue to play with that defensive structure, one goal might be enough to win more games than not. Unfortunately…
2. At the other end, not so great
The Rowdies haven’t exactly lit the scoreboard up this year with four total goals in four matches. Two of those came from the penalty spot and another came in the immediate aftermath of a corner kick, meaning Tampa Bay has only scored once from open play.
For all their attacking flair, the Rowdies have only averaged around three shots on goal per match this year. Frustration is starting to set in and Head Coach Neill Collins knows it.
“At home, when you dominate and create the chances we created, it's always two points dropped (rather than one point earned,)” he said. “I'm very, very frustrated. I'm sure the players are really frustrated and the fans most of all are frustrated because they come to see the team score goals. We're having a different conversation if we converted our chance in the first half, but we didn't.”
The season is young and the Rowdies are still getting results even without the offense totally clicking, so there’s hope that the team will take off like a rocket once it finds its groove. The Rowdies roster is deep and Collins has used three different forward pairings already this year.
Sebastian Guenzatti, the Rowdies leading returning scorer from last season, has started every match. Alongside Guenzatti, Juan Tejada has started once, Brandon Allen twice and then Antoine Hoppenot made his first start last night.
Sooner rather than later, the right combination of players will come together and hopefully the goals start flowing.
3. Opponents park the bus
Last night’s match offered a glimpse of something the Rowdies may see quite often in their remaining home matches this season. Loudoun United arrived in St. Petersburg with the clear intent to defend for the full 90 minutes and try to escape with a 0-0 draw. In all three of its matches this season (all on the road), Loudoun has settled for around 40 percent possession. Last night, the Rowdies limited Loudoun to a season-low 37.5 percent and outpassed the visitors by nearly 200 passes.
With a hostile crowd and challenging weather conditions, Al Lang Stadium is one of the hardest stadiums in the Eastern Conference for visiting teams to play in. For that reason, many of them opt against playing. They come with the intention of parking the bus and trying to escape with a point.
Neill Collins alluded to it in his postgame press conference, saying, “We’ve all learned something tonight. The players have experienced what it’s going to be like at Al Lang and what teams are going to come here to try to do. It’s up to us to overcome that.”
Next week’s match against Hartford again features an expansion team that is yet to pick up even a single point so far, losing all four of its matches. It’s up to the Rowdies to figure out how to break through.