ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 5, 2017) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies officially booked their ticket to the USL Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night, beating the defending champion New York Red Bulls II 3-2 to move up to second place in the Eastern Conference.
Here’s Three Things from the playoff clincher…
1. Fortress Al Lang
Not only did the Rowdies put their name into the playoff field Wednesday night, but they also moved up to second place in the Eastern Conference and moved closer toward guaranteeing themselves a home playoff game (or two) in the process.
Maybe more than for any other team, home field advantage could be crucial for the Rowdies this season. Of Tampa Bay’s 13 wins this season, 11 have come on the perfectly-manicured surface at Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies’ two road wins this season are tied for the fewest of any team in the Eastern Conference’s current playoff field.
Tampa Bay has two chances to strengthen its road form with visits to San Antonio FC on Saturday night and Orlando City B next Thursday. Picking up points from those games would benefit the Rowdies both in increasing their chances of playing at home in the postseason and gaining more confidence away from home if they playoff route takes them there.
As it stands, with two games remaining in the regular season, Tampa Bay is one point ahead of Charleston in 3rd place and Charlotte in fourth place, as well as five points ahead of Rochester in fifth place. The top four teams will host a playoff game in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. If the Rowdies finish in second, they would guarantee themselves a second home playoff game in the Conference Semifinals if they win their quarterfinal.
Tampa Bay’s home record this season, 11-5-1 (W-T-L) set a new record for home wins in the Modern Era. The Rowdies’ current 13-game home unbeaten streak is also a new Modern Era record.
2. Marcel die Legende
Marcel Schäfer took another toward cementing his quick legacy as a modern Tampa Bay Rowdies legend with another Man of the Match performance on Wednesday night.
Schäfer had a hand in all three of the Rowdies’ goal, dishing out an assist to Joe Cole on the first and then finishing goals of his own in the 25th and 45th minutes. His spectacular strike just before halftime, a rocket into the upper 90 from well outside the box, was named No. 3 on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
With 10 assists now on his record, Schäfer now trails only Reno 1868 FC’s Chris Wehan (11) for most in the USL. This despite the fact that Schäfer has primarily split his time between defensive midfielder and left back. He has an assist in four of Tampa Bay’s last five matches.
“Normally, I’m the player who wants to assist my teammates,” Schäfer said. “It means more for me to cross the ball or assist a teammate than to score.”
Add in Schäfer’s five goals this season and it’s clear that the German has become one of the focal points of the Rowdies’ attack.
3. Squad rotation
After more than two weeks off between matches on September 6 and September 23, the Rowdies have had a mad dash to the finish. Tampa Bay’s win over New York was its fourth match in 12 days.
There’s no rest for the weary though, with the squad set to depart for San Antonio on Friday for a high-profile, cross-conference clash against San Antonio FC this weekend. That will be Tampa Bay’s fifth match in 15 days. Despite the compressed schedule, the Rowdies are currently on a five-game unbeaten run.
Through mild squad rotation, Tampa Bay Head Coach Stuart Campbell, has managed to keep the squad as fresh as possible. Three new players came into the starting lineup Wednesday, with Georgi Hristov returning from suspension and joined as a starter by Martin Vingaard and Sebastian Guenzatti, but the Rowdies didn’t seem to miss a beat.
Forward Martin Paterson, who had started 12 straight matches prior to Wednesday, was afforded some rest without costing the Rowdies a result.
This should help Tampa Bay with the USL Cup Playoffs just around the corner.