Tampa Bay Rowdies at Atlanta United 2
Saturday, September 18, 7:30pm ET
Fifth Third Bank Stadium, Kennesaw, Georgia
Watch: The match can be streamed here on ESPN+.
Following Along: Live updates on Twitter at @RowdiesGameday.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies (16-6-1, 46 pts) are set to kick off a three-match road trip this Saturday at Atlanta United 2 (7-9-8, 29 pts). It will be Tampa Bay's first meeting of the year with Atlanta, who sit 5th in the USL Championship's Central Division and eager to pick up as many points as possible as they look to move into a postseason spot with time running out in the regular season.
Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins and his staff do have some familiarity with Atlanta United. The two sides faced off four times during the 2020 season when they competed in the same group, with the Rowdies winning all four of those contests.
Tampa Bay is seeking to extend their 8 match unbeaten run and 5 match winning streak. Atlanta will be entering the weekend on short rest, having picked up a point at home against Tampa Bay's Atlantic Division foe, the Charleston Battery.
"I’m sure Atlanta will be desperate to get the points to get in the playoffs," said Collins. "They’re definitely a slightly improved proposition compared to last year. They’ve improved again,so we’re gonna need to be at our best no question. You’ve seen that with teams that have went there with Indy XI and Charleston and it’s been tough."
Atlanta's best results this year have come at home at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Unlike the majority of Tampa Bay's opponents in the Atlantic Division who play on turf, Atlanta plays on a large grass field similar to the environment at Al Lang. The Rowdies will hope that translates into another quality performance.
"All the players will tell you (Atlanta) are really difficult, tactical games against some top young players, but also some experienced players that they bring down," said Collins. "I think Atlanta has a style of play that makes it difficult, but by the same token we have a style of play that can make it difficult for them. It’s just a really difficult road game against a team that enjoys playing at home on a good field. Hopefully it’s a field we enjoy as well. Another tough game with a team that’s got a lot to play for. We give them the utmost respect, but hopefully not too much respect when it comes to playing them on Saturday."
Minutes Away From History
The Rowdies are 49 minutes away from making USL Championship history by establishing a new record for longest run without conceding a goal. Heading into Atlanta, the Rowdies have held opponents scoreless for 711 straight minutes. The league's current record on 759 minutes was set 5 years ago by Rio Grande Valley FC.
If the Rowdies are able to finish Saturday's match without conceding, they will also have matched Rio Grande Valley's record of 8 consecutive full sheets.
Navigating the Highs and Lows
The Rowdies are coming off their most commanding victory of the year after a 6-0 drubbing of New York Red Bulls II. Collins is not too worried about his squad letting that result go to their heads.
"One thing I’m quite fortunate with is this group," said Collins. "This group doesn't have too many big egos. If they do, they get brought down to the earth pretty quickly. I guess we always find out in the next one. I have had that in the past, where I felt we needed to temper the players' emotions. I don’t feel that in this case, I feel it’s just confidence and positivity, but I think equally on to the next one. The proof will be in the pudding on Saturday, but everything this week’s been good. It’s been, as you can imagine, a feel good place to be, but not any different to any other week."
With just 9 matches left in their regular season campaign, the Rowdies are in a good position to finish on a solid platform for a potential postseason run. The only way to ensure that, though, is by continuing to focus on the one matchday ahead of them.
"Playoffs are an exciting thing to look ahead to and people always want to talk about possibilities, but when it’s your profession to perform, you learn pretty quickly that as high as you can be up, you can be knocked back down and as low as you can be, you can come back from that," said Collins. "So players and coaches are always very aware of the highs and lows and you just go on to the next one. You know as soon as you start looking ahead is where you start falling down."
Contributions From The Wings
The Rowdies didn't seem to miss a beat last week while missing the suspended Conner Antley who has played the most minutes of all of Tampa Bay's wing backs. Sebastian Dalgaard picked up his second assist of the year playing out on the right wing, while Leo Fernandes added two goals from out on the left.
"It feels great to get in a good run of form here and get some assists and a goal," said Dalgaard. "I’m just happy to help the team out in any way that I can at the moment. There’s other great wing backs on the team. We just keep making each other better and better. I think it’s some tough choices for Neill and the coaches every once in a while. We’ve just gotta keep making it like that and keep pushing each other and we’ll get more great results."
Right wing back Dayonn Harris also put in a positive shift off the bench in his first minutes since going down with an injury in late July.
"I think it’s just great to have the wing backs at our disposal because they all know you if you play the first 60 or 70 minutes, it might be the guy that then comes on that gets the opportunity to convert all your hard work into goals and assists," said Collins. "Honestly the way Sebastian Dalgaard's played the last few weeks has been fantastic. Leo’s come back and I think Leo would admit it’s Seb and Conner that have made him come back and play so well because he’s seen the levels they set and he wants to get back in the team."
OUT: Luiz Fernando
QUESTIONABLE: Max Lachowecki