During their recent hot streak, several FC Tampa Bay players mentioned their goal for the remainder of the regular season is to earn the second seed in the NASL playoffs and the first-round bye that comes with it. After Saturday's 2-0 win over Minnesota, which put Tampa Bay alone in third place, it is seven points behind second-place Puerto Rico, which Tampa Bay hosts Saturday. And with two of Tampa Bay's seven remaining regular-season games against the Islanders, it has plenty of opportunity to make up ground. But the drive to second place was news to coach Ricky Hill after Tuesday's practice.
"I like the thinking," Hill said. "I'm looking at it as trying to win as many games as we can by the end of the season. Wherever that takes us, it will take us. I'm mindful that anybody in this league can beat anyone on any given day. We don't want to slip up against someone who might be considered a lesser side. As we're having this conversation, they're having the same conversation in Edmonton, the Strikers are having the same conversation, and so on."
Though Tampa Bay is in good shape to clinch a playoff spot — the magic number is nine points — it is only five points ahead of sixth-place Edmonton.
Pascal firing on all cylinders
Before Saturday's game, Hill told MF Pascal Millien to be aggressive in the attacking third. And Millien, who has four goals and a team-high five assists, heeded his coach's words, rifling a team-high six shots and scoring a highlight-film goal from outside the box in the 45th minute.
"Coach was telling me to take a shot," Millien said. "At halftime we were talking about it. Before the game, everyone was like, 'Guys, take a shot, the field is wet and their goalkeeper is not that great, so you've got to make a shot.'
"I think it was one of my best goals ever. You watch the (English Premier League) and Spanish league, you see goals like that. To score one like that, I'm going to keep watching it every day so I can keep shooting."
Hill said he was glad to see Millien taking control.
"Pascal has an abundance of talent," Hill said. "He would be the joker in our pack because he has the ability to do things that the majority of our players don't. There are times when he can be magnificent and times when he can be frustrated. It's getting that happy medium."
Kicks in the grass
F Matt Clare injured his left knee during Monday's practice and had an MRI exam Tuesday. … MF Chad Burt, who has been out since May 31 with a foot injury, dressed for Saturday's game but didn't play. … MF Jeremy Christie, who has returned to practice after missing the season recovering from offseason hip surgery, set Saturday as a target date to return, but Hill said he believes Christie won't play vs. Puerto Rico.
Kickin' it with defender Frankie Sanfilippo
Tampa Bay's team captain, who scored his first goal of the season Saturday, talks about the team's turnaround and his love of music — and mobs.
What do you think has been key to the team's recent hot streak?
I think we're just all now getting used to each other. Before, we didn't know how each other plays. When we were losing in the beginning of the season, we weren't getting any points, and I think we've realized if we want to get to the playoffs we need to win games.
Do you have any pregame rituals?
I have to shave before every game. I've done that before every game since college. I just like to be clean before a game.
If soccer weren't in your life, what do you think you'd be doing?
If soccer was never in the picture, I think I would be working in music for a production company. I'd like to go around and check out bands and see if we could sign them. One of my cousins does that, so I like that.
In college you majored in something different, didn't you?
I majored in criminology. I was really intrigued by it. It really caught my eye. I was taking a class on gangs and mobs, and I thought it was really interesting. I just really got into the FBI and things like that, so I wanted to pursue that.