Away vs Tulsa Preview

Date: Friday August 18, 2023

Kickoff Time: 9:00 pm EST at ONEOK Field in Tulsa, OK

Records: Tampa Bay Rowdies (41 pts 12W-5D-6L); FC Tulsa (29 pts 7W-8D-9L)

Standings: The Rowdies are 3rd in the East and Tulsa are 8th  

Two home games and two big wins for Nicky Law sandwich a less-than-stellar performance on the road away from Florida. This week, on Friday, the Rowdies will have another chance to take three points from an Eastern Conference rival in their hometown. Will the boys be up for the challenge or will the local support force Tampa Bay into retreat? Tune into ESPN+ to watch!

That was quite the bounce back. Can we go one further?

When the Rowdies play at home under Nicky Law, their record is 100%. (This record is inclusive of two games, to be clear.) Tampa Bay plays at a converted baseball field, which has been totally repurposed toward soccer. If you’re not looking at the structure from outside, there really aren’t many indications it ever used to house another sport. Al Lang Stadium is pretty much “just another” soccer specific venue in the United States. 

With that noted, the Rowdies are very used to playing within the dimensions of their west Florida home. In a league with high school stadiums, college football facilities, and poorly-converted baseball diamonds all around, the width of the Al Lang pitch stands out. It was noted by Nicky Law and both of his players who spoke in the post game press conference after Saturday’s win. 

When prompted on the difference between their play on Saturday the 5th vs. Saturday the 12th, Charlie Dennis and Jake LaCava talked about how the home field advantage in this case is just how their home field literally allows the Rowdies to expand the opposition. We saw the effects of this during the game as well. Tampa Bay reverted to a five-at-the-back system like we’ve seen. 

Within this setup, partly forced upon them due to injuries, wingbacks Conner Antley and Jake Areman have the freedom to get up and down the sidelines, while more inverted attackers contribute by facilitating that wide play and trying to get on the end of the crosses that come from it. The Rowdies can also shore up their defense with an extra man, playing former All League selections Forrest Lasso and Aaron Guillen alongside Freddy Kleemann. 

The first ten to fifteen minutes against Monterey Bay required one slight tweak: Charlie Dennis switched flanks to be able to man mark the opposition’s new talisman midfielder Rafael Baca. Once he was more effectively taken out of the game, the west coast club had very little going for it. The Rowdies played their game, taking the ball from one side, through the central midfield, to the other side and forcing the Union to run themselves ragged all the while. 

If not for a poorly defended set piece on which the Rowdies conceded – Monterey Bay’s only shot on goal the whole half – it could have been a perfect 45 minutes. Regardless, the Rowdies did give that up and went into the interval level 1-1. In the second half, Tampa Bay let the conditions take their toll and the Union had no real response. 

In what felt like over 100-degree heat, Monterey Bay wilted and the Rowdies scored early. At 2-1 up, the Green and Gold did give up one more golden chance to the Union. Alex Dixon, luckily for the home fans, skied what seemed to be a sure goal. That miss took any wind left in the Union’s sails and tore up any fight left in their hearts. The 4-1 scoreline may be a little flattering; but, it is surely true that the Rowdies controlled this game enough to make their opposition play. 

Maybe Tulsa isn’t as good as Pittsburgh anyway?

This perfect storm for the Rowdies at home could ultimately mean nothing as they head out on the road again, though. The width of the field, the treacherous conditions, and the just-good-enough luck with injuries might all change in Oklahoma. FC Tulsa are also much better than Monterey Bay. While they aren’t about to challenge Pittsburgh for the Eastern Conference title, they’re closer to making the playoffs than the near-cellar-dwelling Union. 

The former Roughnecks play at ONEOK Field in downtown Tulsa, another baseball stadium in the USL. It is still an active home for America’s pastime and the seating arrangement cuts down on the possible length and width of the field. Additionally, the clay surface of the diamond itself will likely be visible and provide an obstacle to the possession game the Rowdies like to play. 

Additionally, the heat and humidity are looking rough, but not like-last-Saturday rough. Essentially, it will be harder in all aspects for the Rowdies to take the game to Tulsa like they did to Monterey Bay. These specific conditions, in fact, portend a game more like the one from two weeks ago. It is likely Tampa Bay will need to change up their formation to suit the ONEOK Field on which they’ll play. 

One can hope for some injured players to return in the meantime to help the team out in that respect. Abel Caputo, a central midfielder by trade, pulled up before the starting whistle last week when he originally had been slated to take part. Kleemann came on at the back and Jordan Doherty was pushed forward to his usual position – one from which he was excellent again. Dayonn Harris and Seb Dalgaard could return soon as well; but, we don’t know exactly when. 

If either of them is capable of playing from the start, it’s possible they do, so the Rowdies can switch to a more flexible four-at-the-back system. Jake LaCava has played very wide at times and would surely be up for that again if the Green and Gold could just get a right winger to play opposite him. Charlie Dennis likely would also not mind playing in the central #10 role, as he has done brilliantly there multiple times this season. 

With their own home field advantage, Tulsa will want instead to impose their game on the visitors from Florida. Three points would be crucial for them in their bid to sneak into the playoff spots. Several very capable players will be sniffing around goal with that in the back of their mind. Phillip Goodrum and Marcus Epps each have nine goals and assists, while Moses Dyer and Milo Yosef have seven and six, respectively, of these tallies. 

They make up a very fluid and dynamic front line, with Yosef playing more wide than the other three. Goodrum, Epps, and Dyer will interchange and take turns as the deeper man, the wider man, the target man up top. No matter who plays at the back for the Rowdies, they will have to be dialed in to shut down this fearsome triumvirate. Any slip could be costly, just as was seen last week when a piddly set piece led to a lesser team scoring first. 

Eric Bird and Tommy McCabe behind them will be the midfielders pulling the strings of the Tulsa attack. They will look to the wide man, likely Yosef and one side and Epps on the other, to carry the ball forward at their feet. If Dennis can do a similar job of shutting down the opposition’s playmaker, Rowdies fans will like their chances to go on and win the game. Either way: it is likely to be cagey, after Tampa Bay’s recent 3-0 win, Tulsa will be banking on some revenge.

Score Predictions from the RBLR Rowdies Podcast:

Carlos Rueda: 1-0 Rowdies

James Knowles: 1-1 Draw

Yurika Wheeler: 1-0 Rowdies

Special Guest: Mike Janofsky (@mjanofsky) 4-1 Rowdies