Date: Saturday September 2, 2023
Kickoff Time: 7:30 pm EST at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL
Records: Tampa Bay Rowdies (47 pts 14W-5D-6L); Hartford Athletic FC (16 pts 4W-4D-18L)
Standings: The Rowdies are 2nd in the East and Hartford are 12th (last in the East)
The Rowdies seem to be in top form heading into the final third of the regular season. While there are potential obstacles on the short- and long-term horizons, this weekend gives them a chance to keep that train chugging in the right direction. Any game can provide unexpected problems, of course; but, three points here are absolutely vital. Come to Al Lang to cheer the boys on this Saturday!
One new signing and one player out?
Just after last week’s edition of this article came out, the Rowdies announced that one of their recent signings, Felix Schroter, had left the club. This comes roughly a week after Josh Perez had joined the squad to beef up the depth options. There are no indications coming from the staff at this point as to why Schroter is gone. His contribution of one goal in twelve games may seem sparse; but, the Tampa Bay are hurting for numbers right now. For that reason, it’s surprising.
On the other hand, he has dealt with injuries and not had a ton of playing time. Up top at striker happens to be the position of least need out in the field. Cal Jennings and JJ Williams have been both regular starters and thriving over the course of this summer. Behind them, Lucky Mkosana waits in the wings next to several players who can be put up there in a pinch.
Where the Rowdies have needed the most help, seemingly, is on the flanks and in midfield. Before the game against The Miami, it was noted that regular starter Yann Ekra was not in the team sheet, while Jake Areman missed his second game in a row. Ekra has been an ever-present this season, lining up next to Jordan Doherty since Lewis Hilton went down in the first game of the year. Areman had just recently returned himself.
That’s where Perez seems to come in. He offers an option on the wing that has been so blighted by whacks and knocks since before the season got started in earnest. Dayonn Harris has been in and out, and was on the bench for this one. Next to him were the aforementioned Lucky, attacking midfielder Ariel Martinez, and backup keeper Phil Breno. That was, indeed, it.
Luckily, the Rowdies knew this game was one they could win if they just stuck to their principles. Keep the defense tight and give up as few chances as possible. If some do get through – as is inevitable in this sport – hope they aren’t better than Connor Sparrow in net. Ultimately, Tampa Bay will get some shots of their own and the quality on the field means something will go in the net. Despite some hairy situations, that’s roughly how it played out.
The Miami will be sore with themselves for not getting anything out of this. They had a very good chance to open each half, and another good chance right before each Rowdies goal. Mark Segbers, Joaquin Rivas, Ben Mines, and more will wish they’d been as clinical as Tampa Bay were. However, in the chaos of each half getting going, they couldn’t bury it when needed.
Under the hot south Florida sun and on a turf pitch that was way less than ideal, the Rowdies ceded possession and broke, in the first instance, off the lack of focus following a restart in play and, in the second, off a counter attack led by Jake LaCava. Stay compact and stay patient. Let The Miami expose themselves when they are trying to score.
Toward the end of the game, after playing mostly in a 4-2-4 to accommodate whom they had on the field, the substitutions allowed the Rowdies to shift into a much more defensive unit, sometimes looking like they had six players at the back. Get out of dodge without any injuries and take the three points if you can. What more could one ask for?
Is that the same plan for this weekend?
Once more, the Rowdies should head into a game knowing that they have the talent advantage over their opponent. Hartford Athletic sit last in the East and only one point above last overall. It has certainly been a tough year for a club with higher expectations in 2023. They started the year with Tab Ramos in charge after his stints with the US youth national teams and Houston Dynamo. It was thought that he would be able to lift the club’s floor – and ceiling.
For one reason or another, that never materialized and Omid Namazi is now calling the shots. He was previously an assistant to Ramos both at Hartford and with Houston. Namazi was appointed in June and his last win to date was August 5th. It’s hard to turn a ship around in the middle of the season, especially when the club had only earned two wins. Confidence will naturally be low.
Rowdies fans should expect to see Hartford line up in a low block, trying to make themselves hard to break down. Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented them from conceding eleven goals in the last four games. This is not to say they can’t be dangerous. Their top goalscorer, Kyle Edwards, has seven on the year and two assists to go with it. Prince Saydee behind him has five goals with his three assists. Those are definitely good numbers.
However, if they’re unable to keep things clean at the back, it will naturally be very hard for them to win. Cal Jennings and JJ Williams are two of the hottest strikers in the USL these past few months. They will see the kind of form Hartford is in and be licking their lips in the warm up.
The real issue for the Rowdies lies in the same issue that has plagued them all summer: who is and is not available to play. As mentioned above, Ekra and Areman were both out the last game. Ekra was listed as having a sickness. With everyone aware of how much that’s going around right now, we can all hope he’ll be over it before kickoff. Areman’s status is less known and those of other injured Rowdies remain up in the air.
These three points will be so important because, as the end of the season nears us, there will be tougher teams on the schedule. When those clubs come to town, having a buffer to drop points is good, because they’re simply harder games. With Memphis away, Louisville City, and San Antonio away all around the corner, and with less recovery time in between, getting to the top of the Eastern Conference looks a daunting task. Focus on the now and get this game done so the tougher games down the line aren’t do or die when they come around.
Score Predictions from the RBLR Rowdies Podcast:
Carlos Rueda: 2-0 Rowdies
James Knowles: 3-0 Rowdies
Yurika Wheeler: 3-1 Rowdies
Special Guest: @TheHoopedSleeve 3-0 Rowdies