Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Damion Lowe returns to Rowdies after eventful Gold Cup

ST. PETERSBURG — Pretty well emotionally spent, and not at all rested physically having just finished a life-changing stint with his native Jamaica in the Gold Cup, Damion Lowe wants the Rowdies to know he's ready.

"I doubt I will start, but I'm available," the defender said Friday, Lowe's first day back with the club since departing July 2 for the CONCACAF tournament.

That being said, expect Lowe to get a breather when Tampa Bay hosts Pittsburgh at 7:30 tonight at Al Lang Stadium.

The Rowdies had two home wins and a draw during Lowe's time at the Gold Cup. Lowe kept an eye on his pro team, and vice versa.

"I've been lucky to have been able to watch all his games and really proud of how well he's done," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said.

Lowe and his fellow Reggae Boyz made their nation proud. He was part of a defense that held CONCACAF leader Mexico scoreless twice, the second time in a 1-0 semifinal victory that landed Jamaica in Wednesday night's final with the United States.

In the group stage, Jamaica held Mexico to a 0-0 tie.

"The first game we were so disciplined," Lowe said. "We knew we were not going to outplay them, but they can't break us down, and we got the result. Then the semifinal was so amazing. We were committed; we worked so hard."

Jamaica got to celebrate all of about 20 minutes, Lowe noted. The semifinal was Sunday night in Pasadena, Calif., with the championship match three days later in Santa Clara, Calif.

The final was a thriller. Jamaica again clamped down until the United States got a Jordan Morris goal in the 89th minute to win 2-1. It was the only loss for Jamaica in six tournament matches, and the only one in which it allowed multiple goals.

Lowe played every minute of Jamaica's six matches.

"Not once did I think we were going to lose that game, how we were playing. … We played every game better than the last," Lowe said, adding a tone of near disbelief when talking about what it was like facing the established Americans such as Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

"Achieving all that we did, as a young team, I'm disappointed with the result but not with how we played as a unit. It was very emotional."

Lowe gained international attention, and so did the Rowdies. Fox Soccer host Rob Stone, who used to work in Tampa and often posts favorably on Twitter about the club, was prodded by his studio co-anchors to remind everyone where Lowe plays professionally.

"Tampa Bay Rowdies. America's team," he said.

And as Lowe continued to win one-on-one battles, the Rowdies got another mention.

"The feedback I've gotten, a lot of people telling me good things, it makes me want to get back on the field right away and show people what I can do," Lowe said. "A lot of people didn't know about me. I'm grateful that has been recognized and thank God I was able to stay healthy and play well."

Though Lowe said "my body has recovered," he might have to wait for his next appearance. Lowe didn't train with the Rowdies on Friday and will likely be a bench selection tonight.

The Rowdies (8-7-5, 31 points) have pulled within five points of USL Eastern Conference leader Charleston, which Tampa Bay defeated 2-0 last weekend. Martin Paterson has goals in each of the past three games, and a switch to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation has been beneficial.

"It's very tight up near the top of the league," Campbell said. "The key to everything's going to be our home form. It's been very good this season, and we have to continue that against Pittsburgh."

Tampa Bay also wants to avenge a June 22 defeat at Pittsburgh, which was near the end of a seven-game winless spell. The Rowdies were blanked 2-0 by backup goalkeeper Keasel Broome after starter Trey Mitchell was injured in warmups. Broome hadn't played in more than a month and had allowed five goals in his previous two matches.

"He had the game of his life, really," Campbell said. "We started too slow. We give them a go-ahead (11th-minute goal), and we're chasing the game from then on in. We don't want to make the same mistake (tonight)."

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