This week’s report is gonna be less detailed than usual. I’m in Pittsburgh and over the next 72 hours I have to interview for a job, look for houses, buy new shoes, lead a bunch of synagogue services and celebrate a major holiday. Also, instead of doing the responsible thing and writing this last night, I went out for beers in Squirrel Hill with Laura Ellen and Justin of Mongoals fame.
Listen, priorities people.
The game this week against the Tampa Bay Rowdies is down to four things that aren’t nerdy and nuanced like formation or studying game tape. First, both teams will be dealing with squad rotation and fatigue after playing midweek against lower league opponents in the US Open Cup. Pittsburgh beat the Erie Commodores 2-1, while Tampa lost to the Jacksonville Armada 1-0. This game comes down in part to who wants it more. Second, the game is at Al Lang Stadium. Tampa has 3 wins, 1 loss at home. On the road, they have zero wins, 5 losses. That continues the trend from 2017: the Rowdies were an exceptional 10-1-5 at home and a less impressive 4-6-6 on the road. Third is the Riverhounds themselves. The offense is still a bit anemic. The teams 10 goals for might look impressive, but four of those goals came about from a 4-0 pasting of TFCII.
In eight games, the Riverhounds have been held without goals three times. Scoring goals, especially on the road, is important. And fourth, Tampa Bay is dealing with a certain degree of turmoil after the departure of coach Stuart Campbell. The parting was described as ‘mutual’ but after four straight losses it looks an awful lot like Campbell was fired. One of Tampa’s assistant coaches, probably Cheyne Roberts, will be at the helm tomorrow. Tampa getting a win in the midst of turmoil isn’t impossible, but it isn’t an easy thing to do, either.
Tactics and Formation
The Rowdies play a pretty standard 4-2-3-1. They are firm in defense with good spacing, and in attack they like to possess the ball and keep things in control. Last week in Richmond they met a resolute defense and needed to try and get things going, so they went over the top with long balls a bit often, but overall, I think that’s an aberration. This team will patiently hold the ball, make accurate but safe passes, and change the point of attack until they see an opening, and then they’ll get you. Against Richmond, they never found that opening, and lost 1-0 after defenders Kyle Curinga and Hunter Gorski lost their man at the back post on a cross to concede te lone goal to the kickers.
The big name for Tampa is former England international Joe Cole. At 36, he’s slowing down, and to compensate he’s been moved to more of a defensive-midfielder registra role, clipping passes from deep and not being asked to run too much. He’s not cooked yet though; Cole has 2 goals, 1 assist this year. Tampa’s net minder, Cody Mizell, is one of the better keepers in USL, having come over from Charlotte Independence. In 2017 he had a cup of coffee with the Colorado Rapids, but they ultimately decided to get Andrew Dykstra to be their 3rd keeper for this season, which I think is dumb. Winger/striker Georgi Hristov is a like Cole: getting up their in years, but can still do the thing. He has 151 career goals, at least according to wikipedia, so regardless of the Rowdies current form, they need to keep an eye on the crafty Hungarian. Midfielder Leo Fernandes is a solid all-around partner and connector for Hristov and Cole who spent several years with the Philadephia Union.
The defense of Zac Portillos, Neill Collins, Hunter Gorski and Kyle Curinga is a bit of a conundrum. They’ve been resolute at home, conceding zero goals in three home matches, but surrendering an atrocious 12 goals on the road. That kind of discrepancy tends to be the result of game states – when Tampa go behind by one, they go for broke and don’t mind opening up in order to chase a result. That’s great if you have a defense that can handle it. Evidence points to the fact that the Rowdies back four can’t.
The Rowdies have lost four in a row, including their US Open Cup defeat. All four were on the road. This team might be a bit of a mess, but they still know how to do their jobs, especially back home in Tampa Bay.