Date: Saturday September 23, 2023
Kickoff Time: 7:30 pm EST at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL
Records: Tampa Bay Rowdies (54 pts 16W-6D-7L); Memphis 901 FC (45 pts 12W-9D-8L)
Standings: The Rowdies are 2nd in the East and Memphis are 5th
Last weekend provided for Rowdies fans that roller coaster of emotions that only sport can give in under two hours. From what seemed like a sure loss to an improbable tie, to an even more improbable win, to a very disappointing draw, it had it all. This week, back at home, Tampa Bay will desperately want all three points. Get down to Al Lang to help cheer them to victory!
How can we have won, drawn, and lost all at once?
Phew! That was a lot! Two days on from the last Rowdies games and this writer is still feeling exhausted – and that’s not because it started an hour later than home games do. The first 50 minutes of the match could not have been worse for those of us on Florida’s west coast. But, as many a coach will say, you have to play to the whistle. So much more would happen before then.
The Rowdies started this game missing two ever-presents across the 2023 season: Conner Antley and Aaron Guillen. While Antley had made appearances in all but one game so far this year, Guillen had started all 28 previous matches Tampa Bay played. Looking at the back line that started against San Antonio, questions about the pace of the available defenders could come up.
San Antonio did not necessarily sit back in a style teams have seen from them in the past. In fact, they were in Tampa Bay’s faces and often took the game to their visitors from Florida. It was the Rowdies who started with more players sitting deep, which actually failed to prevent the first goal. The Texans attacked in numbers and happened to find one among them free in the box.
Forrest Lasso came off midway through the first half and, without a defender left on the bench, the Rowdies were forced into a formational switch. Josh Perez came on and put the team into a 4-3-3 setup, with Freddy Kleemann and Jordan Doherty staying in the central defense. Eventually, San Antonio followed suit and changed things around until they had three at the back.
Before that would have any effect, the Rowdies had given up another goal when a long ball led to a giveaway close to the halfway line. San Antonio ran at Tampa Bay’s two central defenders with numbers, and they were unable to close down the shooter before he fired one at Connor Sparrow. Nathan’s strong hit was too powerful to be stopped.
Both the Rowdies’ first and second goals would come from wide, one from a failed clearance put right back into the box and the other from a corner kick. Despite looking at times like they were entirely out of it, the Green and Gold were not only level, but had momentum. What a turnaround.
The 90 minutes were not over, though. With Charlie Dennis dropping deep to playmake a la Lewis Hilton, the sub Perez combined with JJ Williams and found himself in space enough to get a shot off. A massive deflection from a defender trying to block the attempt on target lifted it up and over Nick Marsman, making his debut for San Antonio. (There was some apparent controversy about this, unbeknownst to Rowdies fans.)
Late into stoppage time, though, San Antonio would find an equalizer off a corner. While Sparrow was not entirely at fault for the goals, he didn’t have the best day at the office. The same could be said for both teams’ midfield units, who at different points, were not able to deal with their opponents’ shape. Nearly every attacker on the field took some advantage on the night.
Will Memphis be able to do the double over us?
The last game the Rowdies played against Memphis was right after a hard fought win over Hartford. The club from Connecticut felt aggrieved at having to play a game with a huge portion of their roster missing through Covid. Tampa Bay seemed to approach that game overly lackadaisically, and barely escaped with the three points. Possibly, they wanted to conserve their energy for a Wednesday away game.
That game came four days later, with little room for recovery or tactics. The Rowdies took the lead and then relinquished it eight minutes later in the first half. Early in the second, they took the lead again, seemingly for good. However, as with the game above, one must always play to the whistle, whether that goes to 95 or 98 minutes.
With Memphis roaring back to life late on, several substitutions combined to create a chance that could not be missed. Jeremy Kelly headed home to level it. Then, late in stoppage time, a clear foul from Memphis was not called. Acting head coach Stuart Dobson talked his way into a sending off and everything devolved from there. Another chance led to a penalty after Lasso bundled into an opponent. The subsequent shot was saved – before Lasso bundled the ball into his own net.
For once it is fans of the Rowdies who will be seeking revenge. They and the players they support will know the problems Memphis can pose. They will understand the weaknesses their opponents look to exploit. They will, obviously, want to cover those up as best they can. There are multiple options to do so.
In the away fixture a few weeks ago, the Rowdies looked beleaguered in the second half. Despite scoring early, it was clearly Memphis’ game, and it was only a matter of time before they would score (ultimately twice). There are many ways they can look to minimize the chances of a similar result from occurring again.
Tampa Bay will want to play the Protagonist more in this one, with a better field that should allow them to maintain the possession they prefer at Al Lang. Similarly, in that fateful second half, the Rowdies did not do as much pressing as fans are used to. They sat back deeper and tried to play on the counter. This is because, in part, it had worked earlier in the game. Beyond that, it was also likely to try to preserve as much energy as they could on tired legs. Without that same fatigue, fans will expect a much more front-foot display from the Green and Gold.
However, Memphis will have a trick or two up their sleeve. In the game on September 6th, 901 FC introduced a new loanee to the game in the second half. Argentine Samuel Careaga came on for Leston Paul and helped contribute to the attacking play Aaron Molloy was already spurring. The unit of several Brazilians in front of them worked together to display some lovely passing.
Careaga came on at halftime of Memphis’ last game with the team down 2-1. Hartford’s lead would not last, as 901 FC scored three unanswered to win 4-2. Controlling for the interplay of the team’s attacking unit is not all the Rowdies will have to consider (not that it’s easy anyway). Molloy remains one of the most dangerous creators in the league and he now has two willing partners to open up the game for him. This is where pressing becomes even more important for Tampa Bay.
Score Predictions from the RBLR Rowdies Podcast:
Carlos Rueda: 2-0 W
James Knowles: 3-1 W
Yurika Wheeler: 2-1 W
Special Guest: Michael Taylor (@MichaelDanger19) 2-1 W