Friday, June 22, 2018
Sports

Final home game of season on tap for the Rowdies

ST. PETERSBURG — Given the chance to take the playoff tradition of scoreboard watching one step further, Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell initially swore a nonstressful approach.

The majority of NASL games take place on Saturday nights, simultaneously, so Wednesday was special as rival Fort Lauderdale — the team Tampa Bay needs to catch to make the playoffs — was on TV and the Rowdies were idle.

"I tried to go with the plan of catching the result at halftime and then full time. That lasted about five minutes," Campbell said. "I'd like to say that I just enjoyed a nice cup of tea with the family, but it was not like that."

Instead Campbell gritted through the whole contest, hoping for last-place San Antonio to pull off a victory.

"I did not enjoy a single second. The game was 90 minutes, but it felt like three hours," Campbell said.

Much like with his Rowdies over the weeks-long playoff push, the result Campbell hoped for did not materialize.

It could have been worse, though, as the teams tied 0-0. With that, Tampa Bay enters the final two games of the season two points behind Fort Lauderdale for the last NASL playoff spot as the Rowdies prepare for tonight's home finale, against Carolina.

Tampa Bay's under-performance in the fall has left it in scoreboard-watching straits. The Rowdies missed the spring title by a mere point. Since then Tampa Bay has just four victories in 18 fall decisions, tied for worst with Indy, the team that hosts Fort Lauderdale tonight (San Antonio broke out of the tie for last with its point against the Strikers).

In its past seven outings, the Rowdies have never scored more than once, with four draws and no victories. Through 28 contests, only three players have more than three goals: Maicon Santos with seven, followed by four each from Darwin Espinal and Corey Hertzog.

Despite all of that, Campbell thinks the Rowdies can do damage, even if their point total would be well below the top seeds.

"Without a shadow of a doubt," he said. "I think the league is very tight, and it's been shown that on any day, any team can beat anybody else."

For example, Ottawa stands to be the No. 1 overall seed with a five-point lead over New York. Tampa Bay (36 points) has tied Ottawa (55) in all three meetings.

If Ottawa clinches the top seed this weekend, it could benefit the Rowdies. Tampa Bay finishes at New York on Oct. 31, and if the Cosmos are locked into the second spot, they might rest some starters.

Even if the Rowdies win twice, they'll need Fort Lauderdale to lose a game or draw twice. If the Rowdies go 1-0-1, a Fort Lauderdale victory eliminates Tampa Bay. And if Tampa Bay loses a game, it needs the Strikers to go 0-2 to make the playoffs.

"Forget about our playoff aspirations — we want to get three points for our fans. They deserve it more than anything," Campbell said.

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