Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sports

Cox impresses on attack for Rowdies

Raphael Cox has carved a pretty impressive niche as a jack-of-all-trades during his three-year NASL career.

The 26-year-old was signed by the Rowdies from Atlanta in August and played the final six games of the 2012 regular season as a midfielder.

During the second game of the NASL championship final against Minnesota, Cox was asked to play left back with injuries to starting defenders Takuya Yamada and J.P. Rodrigues, and he performed well enough that the team kept him there throughout much of this year's preseason.

In the season opener against Carolina on Saturday, Cox was listed as a midfield/forward on coach Ricky Hill's lineup card. With his high work rate, he was a nuisance for RailHawks defenders to contain in the 0-0 tie.

"My role is to play wherever Ricky feels that I best fit," Cox said. "I'm more comfortable in an attacking role, but I think that's what also makes me versatile in the back, because I can attack from there as well."

Cox started his career as a left back when he was selected in the fourth round of the MLS draft in 2009 by Real Salt Lake. When he moved to Atlanta, he started in the midfield before being pushed into defense out of necessity.

Ideally, Hill would like to keep Cox in the attacking midfield role he played against Carolina.

"I think on Saturday we saw his real quality when he was pushed up a little bit further, which he hasn't had many opportunities to play since he's joined us last year — maybe twice, I would hazard a guess," Hill said. "So for him to play on Saturday in the manner that he did was very, very pleasing."

That means finding a permanent left back will continue to be an issue. Andres Arango got the starting nod against Carolina and performed well, but his natural position, Hill said, is in central defense. A third option could be Yamada.

"(Yamada) is an outstanding left back, but I think his value is in central defense for us," Hill said. "The middle of the pitch is the most important, because that's where the goals are."

Realignment? The Rowdies came out in a 4-4-2 formation against Carolina, but it really was a 4-2-2-2, Hill said, with the two wide midfielders playing in an advanced position of the two central midfielders, who acted as a protective shield in front of the back four. Cox and Evans Frimpong excelled in the wide midfield role, continually finding space and making dangerous crosses.

"We didn't get any rewards for it in terms of goals," Hill said. "But we had a lot of nice movements at certain periods."

Hill also brought up the possibility of moving one of the forwards back slightly and playing a 4-2-3-1.

"We may tinker a bit away from home," he said.

Injury updates: Don't expect to see forwards Mike Ambersley and Carl Cort for at least another two games, Hill said. Ambersley (knee/MCL sprain) has run more in training but is still at least a week from a full practice. Cort (calf/slight tear) also has been participating in basic fitness training but avoiding high-impact activities. The former English Premier League player has been hampered by injuries in the past, but there is a silver lining to his latest.

"The good thing is it's not an injury that's plagued him persistently over his career," Hill said.

M Keith Savage (knee/meniscus tear) is available for Saturday's match at San Antonio, having trained for the past week with no setbacks. Savage was on the bench but didn't participate in the season opener.

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