Date: Saturday September 8, 2023
Kickoff Time: 7:30 pm EST at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL
Records: Tampa Bay Rowdies (50 pts 15W-5D-7L); Louisville City FC (43 pts 12W-7D-8L)
Standings: The Rowdies are 2nd in the East and LouCity are 4th
A midweek tilt brought Tampa Bay’s first loss in five games. Playing on Memphis’s “postage stamp” of a field, the Rowdies took the lead twice before surrendering it late – and dropping all points even later. The scoresheet suggests a late collapse; but, the team will be ready to fight to make sure it only happens this one time. Come to Al Lang this Saturday to help lead the boys forward again!
What happened in those last ten minutes?
A little chaos never hurt anyone, right? No, wait. A little chaos certainly hurt, right? Going into the last ten minutes of their midweek game vs Memphis 901 on the road, the Rowdies seemed to be in pole position. Leading from a little after the halftime break, three points were nearly secured and first place temporarily locked down with it.
Unfortunately, you’ve got to play to the whistle, as the saying goes. Memphis made two substitutions in the 83rd minute and that raised their play just enough. It was a brand new signing and an 18-year-old who helped turn the tide, with Samuel Careaga and Nighte Pickering following Rashawn Dally onto the field late in the game. Two of those names were directly involved in the buildup to the equalizer scored by Jeremy Kelly. The winner came after a penalty kick was initially saved by Connor Sparrow.
That late own goal from Forrest Lasso really was a gut punch after acting head coach Stuart Dobson had been sent off for two yellow cards in two minutes. While he isn’t the usual manager and Nicky Law will presumably step back in on Saturday, it really was a whirlwind of a game. So much for those three points and an assist from your goalkeeper.
Not to worry! There’s an immediate chance to turn things around once more. Tampa Bay will have likely flown back following the game angry and tired. Hopefully they’ll get some rest while maintaining some of that anger in their bellies. A more important game looms on the horizon against a club with even more history against the Rowdies: Louisville City.
After years of trading barbs in Conference Finals, each side now sits near the top of the standings in the East again. The Rowdies can take over first place with a win (and some other results going their way), while LouCity can close the gap between them and the three teams above. Each club will have had this one circled on their calendars from the day the schedule was announced. It’s finally here.
How do you take a performance like that and turn around so quickly? One must compartmentalize. “The memory of a goldfish” and all that. There were some obvious slip ups during the last game, which will need to be minimized. But, good signs are there, too. For one, Charlie Dennis now sits on ten goals, the third Rowdie this year in double digits, as noted by the commentator. Cal Jennings now has a career-best 12 goals on the season. This is elite stuff.
The Rowdies will have the advantage of playing on their home turf, which they know well and use to stretch teams wide. Lewis Hilton has returned to the lineup, with Jordan Doherty’s breakout season continuing from a deeper role. They can play their game and add tweaks as needed to compliment their ruthless attack. All that and more will be necessary against this opponent.
What will Louisville City think looking at this?
On the other hand, the team from Kentucky won’t be in the mood to dole out favors. Without being as deadly as usual, LouCity have still had a very good season and gone from strength to strength with a flexible lineup. They have approached their opponents with any number of different formations and will certainly try to switch things up mid-game while they’re in Florida.
Mostly known for playing with four at the back and a midfield partnership in front of that, the Boys in Purple have played with three at the back many times this year. This allows their very strong wingbacks to engage the opposition and try to pin back attackers for the other team. The Rowdies, too, have had some positional flexibility this year. However, having three at the back has seemed like a fallback – a comfort zone if and when that’s needed.
In their last game, the Rowdies did not always control the center of the field. Aaron Molloy and Leston Paul for Memphis were a formidable pair, each of them playing their role in either breaking up attacks or kick-starting them, depending on who had the ball. Louisville could follow that lead and play very similarly, with their veteran presence Paolo DelPiccolo lining up next to homegrown midfielder Carlos Moguel for much of the season.
Moguel has the motor while DelPiccolo has the experience to place a pass right into the perfect spot. Stats suggest wingers such as regular Rowdy-villain Brian Ownby will play a large role in carrying the ball forward. However, the central midfielders that could supplement DelPiccolo and Moguel also have some cache to their names.
Two more USL veterans, Tyler Gibson and Dylan Mares, will be more than adept at handling the ball under the Rowdies’ press. If neither of them starts, the most likely one to sit behind the striker will be Ray Serrano. A youngster in his own right, Serrano isn’t a homegrown – at least not in Kentucky. He came up in the Seattle Sounders youth system, playing for former USL club Tacoma Defiance before making the switch eastward. Serrano, with his slight frame, will also be very good at keeping the ball under pressure.
The Rowdies will need to pick and choose when to apply that pressure, as the silky smooth opponents they face will be smart in possession. If they press too hard, LouCity will find the channels to pass right around them. This may lead to a more cagey, backed-off style than Rowdies fans are used to seeing. On the other hand, Tampa Bay will likely have chances to score. Their opponents have not been clean at the back, with their last clean sheet coming August 5th. The need to dial in and focus won’t be greater possibly until the playoffs.
Score Predictions from the RBLR Rowdies Podcast:
Carlos Rueda: 2-0 W
James Knowles: 1-1 D
Yurika Wheeler: 1-1 D