ST. PETERSBURG — FC Tampa Bay forward Aaron King has never been on a scoring run quite like his current one.
Sure, there was a stretch in 2009 when he had a goal in his first three games after being traded from Carolina to Miami in the USL First Division for the final month of the season.
In all likelihood, that late scoring spell helped King earn a contract with FC Tampa Bay for the team's inaugural season. King rewarded the team by scoring a Tampa Bay-high 12 goals (third in USSF Division 2).
The 2011 season started slowly for the 27-year-old, who didn't get on the scoresheet until the 11th game. But in Tampa Bay's past four matches, King has had a goal in each.
Coincidentally, the team has also played its best soccer of late, winning three of its past five.
"(King) has worked hard all year, he's never dropped his head and he's kept going forward. Everything's been positive," said FC Tampa Bay assistant coach/defender David Hayes, who will hand head coaching duties back to Ricky Hill for tonight's contest against FC Edmonton. Hill returned to the bay area Tuesday night, missing the past two games because of the death of a family member.
"…If you saw the (July 17) Edmonton game, no one in the league can match his speed," Hayes said. "At the beginning of the year, I think it was more of us as a unit not playing to his strengths. And now we are, and he's going full stride with it."
Therein lies the quandary for King. It's quite possible that Tampa Bay's all-time leading goal scorer (17 total) was ahead of his time with the team. While King's speed gives him the ability to stretch defenses, Tampa Bay was unable to connect with the 6-foot-1, 180-pound forward consistently enough on his runs, and the team got caught out of position. The result: less playing time for King.
For much of his career, King has been a substitute, a fast-paced addition when the other team is, theoretically, wearing down. Much like a closer in baseball, King was brought on to get that late, clinching or tying goal. After starting 12 games last season, mostly when Aaron Wheeler was out injured, King made just two starts in Tampa Bay's first 13 matches of 2011, scoring once.
But since cracking the starting lineup July 4 against Fort Lauderdale, King has started four straight, scoring in all of them.
"You've got to be patient and trust in what your coaches are doing and what they see at the time," King said. "I was just trying to be patient. It was frustrating (not starting), but at the same time, you've got to keep working hard, no matter what. We're professionals."
King brings an extra dimension at a time when Tampa Bay looks to hold its place among the NASL postseason qualifiers over the final 11 games of the season — Tampa Bay is fifth; the top six teams make the playoffs.
And at his current pace, King earned a spot in the top 11 for the foreseeable future.
"If he keeps scoring goals, you can't take him out," Hayes said. "You ride him until he runs out. But then again, we have to understand he's not going to score every game. That's just unrealistic. The thing is, what he's doing differently is he's creating chaos for the other team with his runs in behind."