TAMPA — Once the Rowdies lost 3-0 Sunday in Montreal and officially killed their playoff hopes, their focus turned to making sure the same outcome doesn't happen next season.
Make no mistake. Coach Paul Dalglish wants to win his final two regular-season games, both at home, but it's clear the emphasis now is on 2011.
The Rowdies (6-11-11, 29 points) are winless in their past 10 games (0-4-6) and have won just once since May 29, a span of 20 contests.
"It's been tough, there's no lying," Dalglish said. "The most disappointing thing is that the guys kind of went out with a whimper. If you look at the results, there's no hiding from it. The guys kind of burned out. That's going to happen with young players.
"We've just got to look at the bigger picture and realize that the young players we've got will be much better prepared for it next year."
Heading into the season, Tampa Bay had just three players with significant professional experience: goalkeeper Daryl Sattler, midfielder Jeremy Christie and defender Scott Buete. All have missed time with injuries. Combine that with 17 of the 22 players being 25 or younger and the Rowdies have had growing pains.
Dalglish said the final two games are critical for the young players looking to be part of the organization long term. The team owns options on a majority of its players, he said. "These last two games will tell us a lot about players' mentalities and how much desire they've got to play for a Rowdies jersey," Dalglish said.
Dalglish would like to duplicate the model Austin has used for success. An expansion team last year, the Aztex finished 10th in the United Soccer Leagues First Division after filling holes with veterans. This year, Austin players Eddie Johnson, Maxwell Griffin and Jamie Griffin are among the top four in points in U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2, and the Aztex have the second-most points in the league (50).
Dalglish said next year the Rowdies will have to be tougher. Most opponent goals have come on set pieces, and the Rowdies are undersized and have not been as physical on corners, free kicks and penalty kicks.
"The college kids are coming in (having played) three-month seasons, and now all of sudden they have to play for six, seven months with the hard travel and the tough, physical games," he said. "You just need to get players that can last the season.
"We want to copy and learn from Austin last year, try to emulate what they've done this year by keeping a core of players that you believe in and adding to them players that are physically capable of handling a full season in this league."
Dalglish put the onus on himself, saying that if the Rowdies don't field a contender next season, he is to blame.
"Next year there is no excuse," he said. "We've got to have a product on the field that can get in the playoffs and challenge for a championship. And if we don't, look at me. If we don't get a playoff team next year, you have to look at me."
KICKS IN THE GRASS: Friday's second-to-last home game, against Minnesota, is Hispanic Heritage Night. Danny Lozada and the Sounds of New York will perform before the game. Also, the first 2,500 fans will receive free Hacky Sacks. …Two players will sign autographs at the West Florida Premier Tournament from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at Putnam Park in Palm Harbor.