Away to Memphis 901 Preview

Date: Wednesday September 6, 2023

Kickoff Time: 8:00 pm EST at Autozone Park in Memphis, TN

Records: Tampa Bay Rowdies (50 pts 15W-5D-6L); Memphis 901 FC (39 pts 10W-9D-7L)

Standings: The Rowdies are 2nd in the East and Memphis are 6th   

The Rowdies are smack in the middle of a very busy week, with three games in eight days. The away match in the middle will not be easy, as Tampa Bay fly to Tennessee to take on a Memphis 901 club trying to climb the Eastern Conference standings and give themselves a better chance in the playoffs. Tune in to ESPN+ tomorrow night at 8pm to follow the progress!

That was a weird game against Hartford. Why?

Last week, this preview article started with an update that happened right before the game which came before it, but after the preview article for that game had been published. Again we will start that way after a wild one against Hartford Athletic. Unbeknownst to us at RBLR Sports, the club from Connecticut had been facing issues with player absences, as Covid-19 swept through the team. They requested to not have the game go ahead as scheduled. 

Based on the statement by the club itself, the league rejected the potential postponement. People online griped that the Rowdies themselves had rejected it. Without any direct reports or quotes to share, we can only speculate on who said what. Either way, it got ugly. Fans were outraged and Hartford, desperate to have sufficient numbers, made two emergency signings. 

Around noon on Saturday, that being the day of the game, Hartford announced they had brought in forward Daniel Bloyou and goalkeeper Marvyn Dorchin, each on 25-day contracts. France native Dorchin, their website told us, had moved to the US at 14, gone to college at the University of Massachusetts, and was most recently playing in the NPSL, the fourth tier of soccer in America. (With Valeo FC seemingly having missed the playoffs, it’s likely his last game was in early July.)

That’s a lot for any club to face, let alone one already in last place in their conference. Surely the Rowdies took them to the cleaners, right? Reality ultimately played out vastly differently from expectation: Hartford not only took an early lead, but held onto that until first half stoppage time. In addition, it took the Rowdies until second half stoppage time to find a second goal and seal the three points. Thank goodness a win’s a win is a win. 

Still, Dorchin and co. should not be upset with themselves at all. After their goal in the thirteenth minute, subsequent to two lovely turns that left Lewis Hilton and Forrest Lasso both in the dust, Hartford did not roll over or let the Rowdies have this one. Indeed, former Rowdie Antoine Hoppenot could’ve given the visitors the lead again. He’ll be kicking himself that he didn’t. 

Instead, it was the former Hartford man, Ariel Martinez, who found the late winner. Right before the clock hit 90, he received the ball from Jordan Doherty, beat one man, and found the bottom left corner to break the visitors’ hearts. They leave Florida with 15 men total, all of whom got on the field, and no more points to add to their tally this season. It was a bitter ending to an already dreadful situation. Rowdies fans will likely want to chalk this one up to some amount of complacency and then move on as quickly as possible now that the W is secure. 

Now we go back to the team down a bunch of men?

With this game out of the way, yes. In all likelihood, if the Rowdies did influence the decision to go ahead with this past game despite the conditions, it’s due in part to their own situation with injuries and scheduling. Besides, Hartford will get their chance at revenge later on this month. 

When they host the Rowdies for a Wednesday away game on the 27th, it’ll be Tampa Bay’s second in September. With playoffs starting late next month, there is very little time to fit in these matches already. Not only is the congestion about to get worse, but this club has been dealing with their own shorthanded bench for weeks. It may be hard for all fans to swallow; but, it should be at least a little bit more understandable through that lens. 

That being said, Tampa Bay did get a mighty boost from the training room this week, as Lewis Hilton made his eventually triumphant return to the starting XI. While there were some signs of slight rust, it’s a perfectly fine game for him to attune himself back to the rigors of USL play. Yann Ekra also returned from a shorter term injury, coming on for Hilton in the 68th. Win-win. 

Tampa Bay will be hoping these returnees foreshadow others and further help the team through this busy month. Kicking things off with this four-day turnover is a trip to the west of Tennessee and the state’s second city, Memphis. The club partly owned by Tim Howard will come into this game looking to knock the Rowdies off their good form and climb the table themselves. 

To do so, they will likely employ all the tricks in the soccer book. One such trick is simply playing where they do. The Rowdies, as has been stated before, prefer their home field due to the dimensions and the surface. This allows them to get wide, play the ball on the ground, maintain possession, and try to break teams down in a consistent way week to week. 

Memphis, on the other hand, do not have a good surface. While Tampa Bay plays at an old baseball stadium, the conversion to soccer has been completed for some time now. The length and width provide a lot of space. The surface is immaculate – and this despite some recent flooding of baywater due to a hurricane. 901 FC still have to lay sod over the clay of a baseball diamond where that intersects with the field. Obviously, this is not ideal. 

Far from pointing this out to hurt the club who plays there – all teams have to start somewhere and, as long as they continue year after year, it can be reasonable to think something better will come down the line – this is just to say that Memphis has an advantage here. The Rowdies will be coming off a tougher-than-expected game, less time to rest, and the brutal daily training conditions that come with a Floridian summer. No doubt Tennessee gets hot, too; but, is it really as hot as Pinellas and Hillsborough counties?

If Memphis can use all these conditions to their benefit, they’ll want to do what they usually do in terms of strategy and have Aaron Molloy “quarterback” for them. He leads his team in accurate long balls per 90 minutes, according to FotMob, and often will try to find the skillful players 901 employs on the flank. If their contingent of silky smooth Brazilians can receive from Molloy, turn, and carry the ball at speed, it’ll be more than the outline of the diamond Rowdies defenders will have to watch out for. 

Score Predictions from the RBLR Rowdies Podcast:

Carlos Rueda: 1-1 Draw

James Knowles: 1-0 Rowdies

Yurika Wheeler: 1-0 Memphis