Date: Saturday August 26, 2023
Kickoff Time: 7:00 pm EST at Riccardo Silva Stadium in University Park, FL
Records: Tampa Bay Rowdies (44 pts 13W-5D-6L); The Miami FC (29 pts 7W-8D-10L)
Standings: The Rowdies are 2nd in the East and The Miami are 9th
While one club in Miami soaks up the headlines, another hosts an intrastate derby this weekend in the USL! That’s right: The Miami FC will host the Tampa Bay Rowdies in south Florida, at the home of FIU’s football team. The Rowdies will want to keep up their recent record and take another three points home. Tune into ESPN+ to watch – or, come to Barriehaus off the Ybor strip to take in the game with the RBLR Crew, some good beer, and some great people!
What are the odds of two road wins in a row?
Putting it lightly: not bad. The Rowdies got off to a very solid streak in the middle of the year before the departure of Neill Collins. Since then, they have had one or two wobbles along the way toward a very good run of form in their last four games. Excepting one very tough away loss to Eastern Conference leaders Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay have won three, including once on the road.
That road game, away to Tulsa, showed that the Rowdies do indeed have what it takes to take their formidable game plan at home and recreate it away. This was in spite of Tulsa’s home field, a baseball stadium that is very much not converted for the Beautiful Game the way Al Lang Stadium has been. The small pitch was made to feel even smaller for the fact that a clay diamond still intersects the corner, covered by a thin layer of sod.
Still, Tampa Bay was able to eke out the result they wanted. Despite giving up some good chances, and one goal on the night, the boys rode their luck and continued to hammer away at their game plan, hoping something would stick. That came in the second half when JJ Williams first created a goal for Cal Jennings and then earned another for himself. His performance will obviously stand out, and it even put him on the USL Team of the Week.
The Miami have their own issues when it comes to a playing surface. While the stadium can comfortably fit a full pitch, the turf is notoriously rough and can make possession difficult. Tampa Bay fans will remember the recent trip to Pittsburgh similarly. However, the opposition this week is not flying as high as all that. The Miami sit outside the playoff spots looking in.
This should give those on the state’s west coast some hope. Despite the turf, despite the injuries, The Miami is not very dangerous this year. Their -31 goal differential tells an interesting story. They have conceded 32 goals, which is nine more than the Rowdies. Their 31 goals-for is a full ten fewer than Tampa Bay. Until last weekend, their top scorer only had five to his name. (Since then, Joaquin Rivas has overtaken Kyle Murphy by scoring a hat trick to give him six.)
Yet again, if the Rowdies can maintain their game plan, and possibly ride their luck a little longer, this is an eminently winnable game. The opposition attack should surely not frighten the defense in Green and Gold. With JJ Williams heating up again, it may also be the case that the other end of the field is covered. New signing Josh Perez will also help out with the lack of numbers available.
Does this Miami club have any real threats?
While it might not be anywhere near the level of Inter, The Miami are still no slouches. Considering their position in the table, they’ll want these three points desperately – for bragging rights and to keep their season on track. They have also been on a pretty good streak lately, from which they should have the confidence to try to match the Rowdies step by step. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising for them to get a home win.
Coming into this weekend, The Miami will be soaring off a recent 3-0 win and hat trick from Joaquin Rivas. While they lost the game before that, the three before their ill-fated trip to Indiana were all wins as well. These include victories over two Texas teams, San Antonio and El Paso. Readers may recognize those as both having led the Western Conference this year.
The Miami go about their game trying to attack quickly and on the break, while keeping a solid spine in front of their net. Bolu Akinyode has been at the club for a number of years now, while his current partner, Gabriel Cabral, has made the jump up from USL League One. Behind them, the defensive pairing of either Paco Craig and Ben Ofeimu, or Craig and Moises Hernandez, has a lot of experience playing at this level and in this stadium. They will all be formidable.
Aedan Stanley operates as a left back who can drop deeper to create a back five if needed. On the other side, Mark Segbers has been known for his pace and ability to carry the ball up the sideline. Their nous in picking the right moment has created both a strong wall and a good option to get forward.
While on the run, Segbers will likely be looking for the feet of one of the forwards or Florian Valot, who should sit right behind them. Valot is another central midfielder with a lot of experience at this level and with this club. He can playmake and often sees passes defenders do not. That’ll be much to the benefit of Rivas, Michael Salazar, and former Rowdie Kyle Murphy. Playing against a former team is always good motivation to cause problems.
In sixteen matches, the Rowdies have won eight to The Miami’s four. (There have also been four draws.) This isn’t the most competitive of fixtures on the schedule from the outside. However, there is a likelihood the players will be bristling. Bragging rights are an important factor; but, it’s important to keep that in context. The context here is the importance of the three points on the line when the playoffs are not that far off. That is where the real urgency will start before melding into local rivalries.
Obviously, it’s important to keep one’s head and not lose focus in the middle of a game. The usual lack of a crowd at Riccardo Silva Stadium means any taunts will come from others on the field. Perhaps this is why there have been no red cards issued in this fixture in the USL era. But, don’t be fooled: derby games are fewer and farther in between (literally) in the United States than elsewhere. The chance to get one over on the “Bad Guy” will be no small factor in this one.
Behind Enemy Lines with Special Guest:
Score Predictions from the RBLR Rowdies Podcast:
Carlos Rueda: 2-0 Rowdies
James Knowles: 3-1 Rowdies
Yurika Wheeler: 2-1 Rowdies
Special Guest: 3-0 Rowdies