TAMPA — Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish says newcomers Ricardo Sanchez and Jonny Steele simply needed a little more freedom.
The veterans, acquired a month ago in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps, have played a major role in keeping Tampa Bay in the playoff hunt.
Sanchez, a 28-year-old midfielder who is a former U-17 and U-20 Mexican national team player, has added instant offense, scoring three goals in his first three games as a Rowdie. In four games he is fourth on the team in points (seven). Steele, the 2008 USL-1 MVP with Puerto Rico, has started three games and has an assist.
"Maybe we're getting out of Sanchez and Steele what Vancouver thought they were going to get," Dalglish said. "It's just knowing how to play these guys in the best positions and trying to get the most out of them. In the system we play, they get a little bit more freedom. It's not the rigid 4-4-2 that Vancouver plays. That's what we can give them, the freedom to play and to use their creativity."
With Vancouver (9-3-11, 38 points), the NASL Conference leader, coming to town tonight, Sanchez and Steele have a chance to prove something to their former team.
Earning a win at home would be important. Six of Tampa Bay's eight remaining games are at Steinbrenner Field, and with the Rowdies (6-8-8, 26 points) in the eighth place with the final playoff spot, they need to take advantage. Tampa Bay is 0-1-2 on its recently completed road trip.
"We were kind of disappointed we didn't get the wins in Puerto Rico and Miami, but we got points on the road," Dalglish said.
USSF releases new standards: The U.S. Soccer Federation issued new league regulations for Division 2 leagues like the Rowdies'.
Among the notable regulations: Every team must submit a line of credit worth at least $750,000, have a principal owner that holds at least 35 percent of the team and has a net worth of $20 million, play in a market of at least 750,000 and in a stadium that holds at least 5,000.
Each D2 league must have at least eight teams, and at least four existing teams — Crystal Palace Baltimore, NSC Minnesota, Puerto Rico and AC St. Louis — could have trouble meeting the new regulations. Edmonton is slated to join the league next year and possibly Atlanta. Montreal is slated to join MLS in 2012.
"We welcome the new USSF Division 2 standards and feel that they are a necessary next step for the growth of soccer in North America," Rowdies owner and president Andrew Nestor said in a release. "Our ownership group and organization meet the standards and I am confident that our NASL partners do as well."
INJURY REPORT: Forward Aaron Wheeler (shin) returned to action Saturday as a reserve, but Dalglish said he's not ready to start. Defender Gordon Kljestan is cleared to return but also isn't ready. Jeremy Christie (groin), Scott Buete (hernia) and Erik Ustruck (leg) are out tonight.
KICKS IN THE GRASS: Tonight is Thirsty Thursday; beers will be $1 from 6 to 7:30. … The Rowdies host a postgame party at 10 tonight at Champps in International Plaza. There will be half-price appetizers, drink specials and player appearances. … The team is offering three-game midweek and weekend mini-plans starting at $30 each. Call toll-free 1-888-75-ROWDIES or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at email@example.com.