ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 4, 2020) -- The 2020 USL Championship season is now just three days away and it's time to take a closer look at each position group on the Tampa Bay Rowdies revamped roster. Today's edition features a closer look at the forwards.
The forward group is small, with four senior players and Landon Ameres on a USL Academy contract, but the competition to be one of two starters in Head Coach Neill Collins' 3-5-2 system is perhaps closer than any other spot on the field.
Leaving aside Landon Ameres, who is more likely to be a regular with the Rowdies U23s in League Two this summer, all four forwards look to be viable candidates to start regularly, so it will be a question of which forwards can take their chances and build momentum to stay in the team week to week.
Sebastian Guenzatti looks like a lock to start on opening day, coming off a season in which he finished tied for third in the USL Championship Golden Boot race with a Modern Era Rowdies record 18 goals in the regular season, plus one more in the USL Championship Playoffs.
If you assume Guenzatti will start Saturday night against the New York Red Bulls II, the big question becomes who will get the first shot at partnering with Guenzatti in the attack.
Juan Tejada scored 10 goals in his first professional season last year and scored the final goal of Tampa Bay's preseason schedule last weekend against the USF Bulls. Lucky Mkosana was acquired via trade midway through last season and also scored 10 combined goals in 2019 for Louisville City FC and the Rowdies. New signing Kyle Murphy was Loudoun United FC's leading scorer last season with 13 goals.
The four senior forwards on Tampa Bay's roster scored a combined 52 goals in USL Championship play last season, giving Collins plenty of confidence ahead of the new season. Those 52 goals are more than 18 teams scored last season, exactly half the league.
"People have said to me, 'Good luck picking the team this year,'" Collins said. "This is one of the areas where it will be the hardest. Last year we started with Sebastian and Juan, who were both really, really effective. We struggled with goals off the bench and with competition, so we were delighted to bring in Lucky and he's shown why we've brought him in. Then you add in Kyle and it's a spectacular group. If we can get 52 goals from them again this year, we'll have a very successful season. There's no shortage of goals from these guys and no shortage of work ethic either. All four guys work hard for the team and they're all super fit and fast. That's one of the most exciting areas of the team."
Youth Club: Chargers SC
Ameres signed a USL Academy Contract with the Rowdies on February 26. He played in a handful of preseason matches, including cameos against Orlando City SC and Inter Miami CF.
Previous Club: New York Cosmos
Guenzatti scored twice this preseason, helping the Rowdies to a 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact with a brace. His 19 goals last season make him a likely starter once again to begin this season.
Previous Club: Louisville City FC
Mkosana netted two goals this preseason, scoring against the Chivas Florida U23s and South Georgia Tormenta. He scored six goals for Tampa Bay in 18 matches last season, plus four goals in 15 matches for Louisville City FC.
Previous Club: Loudoun United FC
Previous Club: Lakeland Tropics