There is almost no team in USL that is worthy of mutual respect by Riverhounds fans than the Tampa Bay Rowdies.* Like the Hounds, they are a club with history. In a US soccer landscape filled with teams that have come and gone – the Wilmington Hammerheads and St Louis FC, Antigua Barracuda and the Dayton Dutch Lions, and of course the New York Cosmos and Tampa Bay Mutiny – the Hounds and the Rowdies are OGs. The Hounds have been through league name changes, division changes, playing in high school stadiums and badge changes and color changes since their inception in 1998. The dates aren’t identical, but the sense of constant change is the same for TBR. The Rowdies feel our pain.
The Rowdies are both older and not quite as old as Pittsburgh’s soccer team. The current iteration was founded in 2008, but TBR inherits the legacy of the original NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies team, who played in NASL from 1975 to 1984 before the league folded. They persisted for a few years after NASL, playing in a couple leagues that I literally had never heard of until today. And I’ve been a soccer writer for eight years.
They are also to be respected because, like the Hounds, they keep it real. They are an independent, minor league soccer team, and they like it that way. Although they have expressed an interest in moving to MLS, they aren’t just passing through the USL on the way to something better, like Nashville did (and, probably, like San Diego and Las Vegas are). They aren’t a lower league affiliate. They have a waterfront stadium with a tiki hut and a grass slope that kids like to roll down. (Admit it, when the game gets slow at Al Lang Stadium, you too have watch the little kids behind the fence tumble down the hill with glee.)
They are whimsical, and a little low rent, and authentic. They have dope kits. They respect history, but not too much, because then they’d be one of those priggish English clubs like Sheffington United Wanderers FC. It is important, now and again, for us all to remind ourselves that we are watching 11 grown men chase a ball around a yard for an hour and a half, and nothing more. I think Tampa Bay gets that. So I respect them. Maybe, even like them.
Tampa Bay Rowdies – The Broad Strokes
After a 2020 season in which the Riverhounds were deprived of the opportunity to play Tampa Bay, we are now facing them for the second time already this year, and will face them two more times after this match. The Rowdies won the USL Championship last year – sort of. After finishing with a blisteringly good 10-3-3 record and winning all their playoff matches, their USL Final for a trophy was cancelled in November due to Covid outbreaks that swept both teams.
They have picked up right where they left off, putting together a 6-0-1 (WTL) record to date. Their one loss came in a match against Charlotte Independence, a team that is proving itself to be a very stubborn defensive squad that takes few risks and stays compact and tight. Against them, TBR just didn’t get a lot of daylight, and although they created chances, they just couldn’t make the ball go in.
You’ll remember that Tampa beat the Riverhounds in the season opener in Florida. I forgot to preview that game. Oops.
Like you, though, I did watch that game. My two cents: forget all about it. The Hounds looked absolutely terrible that day. I don’t know what they ate at the hotel or who forgot their lucky rabbit’s foot, but everything from that game was epically bad – movement, defending, first touch, chance creation, finishing. The Hounds were out-shot 13-6 and out-possessed 63 percent to 37 percent. You and I both know that this Riverhounds team isn’t actually that bad, especially not at home.
A hackneyed scribe might suggest that this will be a revenge game. I don’t think so. These two teams are like an old married couple. There are no big blowouts. It’s a regular, work-a-day scrap, and then on to the next one. It is the middle of the USL season right now. Both clubs are playing the long game, both still rounding into form.
Tactics and Personnel
TB Manager Neil Collins was a center back for Tampa Bay before a midseason firing a few years ago pressed him into service as ‘player-manager’. He did such a good job, the front office changed him from ‘interim’ to ‘head coach’, and he’s been there ever since. And he’s really, really good at it. From tactics to man-management, I don’t think I’ve been as impressed with any other USL coach as I have with Neil Collins.
He’s been running a very attacking 5-3-2 or a 3-4-1-2 roughly since he took over three years ago. My sense is: when facing a compact team, like most clubs, Tampa uses their fullbacks to create width and draw out the defense, and will happily bend the ball in from wide spaces for headers. They got at least one of their goals against the Hounds this way, directing a ball onto the noggin of former Riverhound Steevan Dos Santos.
But if they can start the ball through the midfield and in transition, Tampa want to attack quickly and centrally . They are smart and dynamic, and talented.
In attack their key man this season has been Sebastián Guenzatti. The striker has 5 goals in 627 minutes played on an Expected Goals mark of 4.49, meaning he gets into dangerous places often, and he finishes at an above-average rate for his position. Uh oh.
One of their other forwards are Steevan Dos Santos, who we know all about, but who has been out with injury. I think it is likely that ‘Duba’ will not be making the trip to Pittsburgh this time around. Based on American Soccer Analysis’ Goals Added metric (G+), he has been the teams most valuable player so far, so his loss is a big blow.
USL Veteran Lucky Mkosana (pronounced EMM-Kasana; I got that wrong for a full year before I got wise) is also with Tampa. The 33-year-old former Harrisburg City Islander has 60 goals across all clubs and seasons, but he was also unavailable last week for the 2-1 win over Loudoun United, so it is unknown if he’ll be up for this one at Highmark Stadium.
They also have young Panamanian forward Juan Tejada. However, Tejada hasn’t started a game yet this year for unknown reasons, and he struggled with injury in 2020. Both his injury history, his smiling face, and his hair make me think that Tejada might just actually be AFC Richmond striker Dani Rojas in disguise.
If you didn’t catch the reference, 1) binge-watch Ted Lasso. Right now. Do it.
And 2) here’s a helpful primer video:
Football is life.
If all those strikers are still hurt, former English lower leagues forward Jordan Adebayo-Smith will likely get another start. I watched him in last week’s match against, and I can firmly say that he is, indeed, a guy.
Zach Steinberger has been something of a midfielder / center forward this year, a full-time false nine if you will. Statistically speaking, he’s been a weak link, producing a team worst -0.61 G+. His shooting in particular has been pretty bad, and he hasn’t produced much effective final third passing, with just 4 Key Passes in 564 minutes of play.
Left back Leo Fernandes is a wonderful player who creates and dictates play from wide. Watch out for him. You see above that he is third on the team in G+. Along the back line with him, left and center, are two stalwart defenders, Aaron Guillen, second-best in G+ on the squad, and Forrest Lasso, a 6 foot 5 hulking behemoth and two-time USL Defender of the Year. If I were Bob Lilley, my tactics for the Hounds would basically be ‘go down the left side. Yinz ain’t gettin’ nothin’ on that right.’ The two players a Riverhounds left-sided attacker would face are probably Jordan Scarlett and Conner Antley.
I have never heard of them, so I assume they are palookas**.
Attack ’em, Hounds.
TBR’s Lineup Last Week
Date: Saturday, June 19
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Fla.
TV: 22 The Point
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
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* The other team we all respect is fellow OG club, the Charleston Battery. Great crest, great history, and a medium-sized city that (probably) ain’t jumping to another league. Much love to the Palmetto State Cannons.
** They may, in fact, be good. But math says Guillen is the best, so I say have at them.