CINCINNATI, Ohio (July 15, 2018) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies fell 2-0 to conference-leading FC Cincinnati on Saturday night, their first-ever competitive loss to Cincinnati.
Here’s three things from the match…
1. New faces abound
Tampa Bay Head Coach Neill Collins trotted out a starting XI featuring three players making their first start of the season for the Rowdies in forward Stefano Bonomo, midfielders Kwadwo Poku and Afrim Taku, and defender Kyle Porter. Add in that goalkeeper Cody Mizell was making his first appearance since mid-May and it felt like a brand new team.
Bonomo entered the weekend having played only 61 minutes for the Rowdies since joining earlier this month. Poku had yet to play while he waited for the transfer window to open. Taku had played six minutes off the bench in nearly a month since he signed with the club. Porter signed with the Rowdies late this week and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup.
Those players have all put in plenty of time training with their teammates, but games are played at an entirely different speed and intensity. It will take game minutes to complete the process of growing together as a unified team at the end of this mid-season roster revamp.
Playing that green of a team against the best team in the Eastern Conference on that stage in Nippert Stadium was a bold choice that didn’t necessarily work out on the night, but should benefit the Rowdies in the coming weeks.
The point has been made before that the Rowdies team that plays now hardly resembles the 14 players that featured in an opening day win on March 17, but you don’t even have to go back that far anymore. Of the 14 players that played in Neill Collins’ first match in charge of the Rowdies on May 19, only five played last night.
2. Playing on turf
The Rowdies made it to mid-July by playing only on natural grass (apart from the one quarter of a field that is artificial turf at Louisville City FC’s Slugger Field), but they will have to get used to artificial turf in the coming weeks and months.
Each of Tampa Bay’s next two road matches — at Ottawa Fury FC on August 3 and at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on August 22 — are on plastic grass. The Rowdies will play on turf once more in the regular season when they visit the Indy Eleven on September 26.
It was by scheduling luck alone that the Rowdies had dodged turf for this long. Toronto FC II and the New York Red Bulls II both play on artificial turf at their regular home venues, but both teams instead hosted the Rowdies at their MLS stadiums, which both have natural grass.
Artificial turf has traditionally been a bogeyman for the Rowdies, who posted a 1-4-2 (W-L-T) record on turf in 2017 and a 0-5-3 record on it in 2016.
Four of the current playoff teams in the Eastern Conference field play on turf at home, so it seems the Rowdies will need to overcome their turf issues if they are to achieve their goals for this season.
3. Coming home
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Rowdies’ next two matches, with Indy Eleven visiting Al Lang Stadium next Saturday and then the Red Bulls II coming to St. Pete on July 28.
Those two teams are both within six points of the Rowdies, so whichever teams pick up points in those games will be taking points away from a direct playoff rival.