Rowdies Away to Orange County Preview

Date: Saturday March 18, 2023

Kickoff Time: 10:00 pm EST at Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine, CA

Records: Tampa Bay Rowdies (1pt 0W-1D-0L); Orange County (0pts 0W-0D-1L)

The Tampa Bay Rowdies travel to Orange County for their second game of the 2023 season. After an underwhelming home and season opener versus Indy Eleven, the Green and Gold will want to get the season on track with a win. However, going across the country is never easy and the opposition will want to right their own ship after a tough start to the year. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

What will the Rowdies need to do?

The 1-1 draw from the past weekend left a lot to be desired. Based on the Rowdies’ game vs. Indy, the first step in improving our chances would be to sharpen our focus. This sounds rather vague; but, both head coach Neill Collins and Forrest Lasso in the post-game press conference made mention of their disappointment in the way things went, while not necessarily talking about the actual result. Collins went so far as to say that, “regardless if we’d have got the three points, I’d have been disappointed with the performance.”

Lasso mentioned his foul against Sebastian Guenzatti in the dying moments not just as a source of frustration with the referee, but also to say he wanted to do better in those situations. Of his tackle, Lasso said he “could’ve done a lot better; but, he used his body well – spun me,” while referring to Seba. These might even be mistakes that just come from being out of the regular rhythm. 

Collins also made note that he thought the Rowdies did not “execute any part of our gameplan.” It’s important to remember that Lewis Hilton went down in the first ten minutes of the match. With his absence in such a crucial position, change was likely necessarily on the cards in terms of our ability. However, the many balls hoofed up to lone individuals suggests that any work on build up play before Saturday had unfortunately little effect. As of publishing we do not have news on his injury, but Hilton’s immediate return would be more than helpful.

The Rowdies will want to not only get better in the actual tactics, but also to consider where they attack Orange County as well. In OC’s first game, a 3-1 loss to Louisville City, there were distinct differences between the two halves as to who was the dominant team. In the first half, LouCity was in charge and took multiple big swings at net by sending numbers down their right flank, where OC winger Milan Iloski did precious little defensive work. Anything positive for the Orange and Black seemed to go through Kyle Scott in the center of the midfield; although, he didn’t have much help. 

There is an outline of what kinds of attacks the Rowdies might employ to try to break them down. As a team, we certainly do like to use our wingbacks heavily and Conner Antley at right wing back was a part of the best moves the Rowdies created in the first half of our game. Making sure we focus on building up an advantage down that side, in particular, could help us score, especially if JJ Williams is sitting on the far post.

How will Orange County try to stop us?

In the second half of the Orange County game, though, the script was flipped. Louisville had to adopt a defensive posture as OC made a number of substitutions and tactical changes. For instance, when they had the ball, OC often adopted a three-man backline, which allowed their much beleaguered left back, Alex Villanueva, to turn into a wingback and get higher up the field. His influence on the proceedings grew and so did the chances his team would rack up. After what was a pretty dull first half for the OC attack, they ended the game with 14 shots over the opposition’s eight. 

Milan Iloski also played a larger role after the halftime break. He moved more centrally as Villanueva got higher up the pitch and this was to good effect. Iloski was the Golden Boot winner for the entire league in 2022. He clearly has a lot of talent and a good finishing touch. What he needs heading into this new season is a position from which he can get himself into the best spots to score. Those opportunities certainly came in the second half, even if the final execution was lacking overall. 

Where OC succeeded the most at creating these chances was either in transition or on set pieces. This will be important for the Rowdies to remember as they make their trip out west. While it’s easier said than done, stopping Orange County from getting many transition chances will be crucial. This will require we either maintain possession as much as we can or, barring that, not cough it up in bad positions. Louisville doing so is where OC’s final trump card came into play: their youth. The OC roster is made up of a mixture of several European veterans and a lot of young American players. They generally have speed and skill to burn, with a bravery to match. If they can’t take advantage initially on the transition between not having possession and suddenly having it, the fouls they draw from last ditch defending will give OC plenty more opportunities. Bryce Jamison wowed me with his dribbling, and he’s not the only player who can. 

Behind Enemy Lines with Special Guest Brad Palonsky (@PalOnTheSky) of Orange & Black SoccerCast:

Orange County is coming off a week one loss to the other noteworthy perennial powerhouse of the east coast in Louisville City FC. The team had an improved midfield effort compared to the 2022 season that failed to retain any momentum from winning the championship in 2021. Defensive mistakes however led to Louisville’s 2nd and 3rd goals. OCSC did a good job distributing the ball, but had a difficult time beating Kyle Morton to find the back of the net, with the only goal coming from Kevin Partida.

To regain their winning ways moving forward this season, Orange County will look to build upon their midfield under new captain Daniel Pedersen and retooled defense. Also expect some lineup changes from week one, including a new signing in goalkeeper Cody Cropper and Thomas Amang, who is now eligible to play after a red card suspension during the 2022 playoffs. Orange County SC will have a lot of new tools at their disposal to get back on track to replicate the success the team found in 2021.

Score Predictions from the RBLR Rowdies Podcast:

Carlos Rueda: 2-0 Rowdies

James Knowles: 2-2 draw

Yurika Wheeler: 1-0 Rowdies

Special Guest: David Morales (@Tampa_Proper) 2-0 Rowdies

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