NORMAN, Okla. (May 29, 2019) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies were bounced from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for another year Tuesday, falling short in topsy-turvy 4-3 loss to OKC Energy FC after a lengthy weather delay.
1. A long night indeed
It’s hard to know exactly why the Rowdies put in such an uncharacteristically sloppy performance Tuesday night, but there are a few leading contenders.
First, the Rowdies played Saturday night in St. Pete and then made the lengthy journey of more than 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. Tampa Bay’s trip was just about the longest any team will make in this round of the Open Cup. Hartford Athletic’s visit to Memphis 901 FC is longer by a couple dozen miles as the crow flies.
If the trip there wasn’t enough, kickoff was delayed by nearly two-and-a-half hours due to lightning and tornado warnings in the area. Neither team took the field for warmups at the originally scheduled time, but the long wait in the locker room was less than ideal. The match ended just before midnight local time, 1 a.m. in the Rowdies home time zone.
Once things got rolling, the Rowdies immediately conceded a goal and then lost starter Malik Johnson due to injury after only about 10 minutes. Johnson was making his first start of the year after suffering a shoulder injury in preseason but it was a short-lived start after an elbow to the face knocked him out of the match early.
The conditions were of course the same for both teams, but it was clearly OKC that looked fresher and more ready to handle the speed bumps.
2. A formidable attack
Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins heavily rotated his squad Tuesday night, replacing eight players from the lineup that beat the Swope Park Rangers in league play on Saturday. Among the changes were Brandon Allen and Antoine Hoppenot forming a strike partnership up front with Zach Steinberger playing behind. It’s the same front three the Rowdies used in the previous round of the Open Cup, a 4-1 win over The Villages SC. On that night, Allen and Steinberger both scored and Steinberger recorded two assists.
That front three looked sharp again Tuesday night as Allen bagged a brace and Hoppenot scored his first goal in Rowdies colors. Steinberger again had two assists.
Competition for places in the Rowdies lineup is intense with Tampa Bay still unbeaten in league play in 2019. Allen’s four goals in all competitions have him tied with Juan Tejada for second-leading scorer this season behind Sebastian Guenzatti’s five.
It gives Collins more hard decisions to make as the attackers that so far have been part of the second unit continue to excel and put pressure on their teammates.
3. A leaky defense
While things clicked going forward for the Rowdies, it was poor performance at the back for the Rowdies, who have been clearly the best defensive team in the USL Championship this season.
Going into the match, the Rowdies had conceded five total goals in 13 matches in all competitions this season. They hadn’t yet conceded multiple goals in a single game. They nearly matched that on Tuesday night in what the Rowdies will hope was a one-off anomaly.
The root of the problem was a few uncharacteristic individual mistakes that gave Energy FC great scoring chances out of nowhere, be it leaving too much space for a shot or a botched clearance.
Tampa Bay will have a few days to think about things and correct the issues before returning to league action Saturday night in Birmingham.