Rowdies aim to boost scoring touch

For the first time this year, the Rowdies have virtually their entire arsenal of players, including forward Carl Cort, left. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times
For the first time this year, the Rowdies have virtually their entire arsenal of players, including forward Carl Cort, left.JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times
Published July 11 2014
Updated July 11 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — In one sequence during an intrasquad training match Thursday, 6-foot-4 Tampa Bay Rowdies forward Carl Cort leaped over a defender and powered a header into goal.

Five minutes later, Darel Russell calmly bent an 18-yard shot into the far corner of the goal.

A couple more moments passed before Bulgarian striker Georgi Hristov deftly touched a ball around goalkeeper Matt Pickens at the opposite goal, raced to the end line before the ball trickled out of play and tapped a shot into the open net.

As the Rowdies embark on the NASL Fall Season — beginning with tonight's opener against the Atlanta Silverbacks at Al Lang Stadium — an offensive attack that was anemic for much of the spring has suddenly sprung to life with numerous scoring options.

The Rowdies scored 11 goals in the spring, ranking eighth in the 10-team NASL, despite taking the most shots (64) of any squad. Six of the 11 goals came in two matches, and the Rowdies hadn't scored multiple goals in a game until the seventh match (a 3-2 victory over Fort Lauderdale). The Strikers led the league with 18 goals on just 46 shots.

But starting with a 3-3 tie against spring champion Minnesota United FC to close out the first installment of the NASL season, the Rowdies have been scoring in bunches.

During a friendly against Fort Lauderdale on July 4, the Rowdies scored three times. Two days later, the Rowdies scored two more against Orlando City SC.

"I don't think we did this team justice in the first half of the season. On paper, we have a really good team and a lot of offensive players, and we should be scoring goals, lots of goals," Rowdies forward Casey Townsend said. "We played really well our last few games in the spring, and we played really well in the exhibition games. Hopefully, it carries over to the fall."

Another reason for optimism: For the first time this year, the Rowdies have virtually their entire arsenal of players.

Cort is an option up top after playing just 30 minutes of the spring because of various ailments. Forward Amani Walker missed 11 months with a torn ACL but is healthy again and scored in the July 4 Strikers match. Forward Brian Shriver, the 2013 NASL Golden Boot winner who started only four of nine matches in the spring while dealing with an ankle sprain, is ready to return.

Cort, Walker and Shriver are physically healthy but, fitness-wise, probably can't put in a full 90-minute shift for a week or two, Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. Only forward Devin Del Do, who recently removed the boot protecting his injured ankle, and goalkeeper Diego Restrepo (Achilles) are unavailable for the match against Atlanta.

"We have a number of players to choose from," Hill said. "Those who get the opportunity, if it's not panning out, I've got options to bring someone else in. … It's about productivity, and I'm looking for guys who can produce."

Cort and the 6-foot-2 Walker, combined with the midseason signing of 6-2 Argentine Luciano Olguin, provide three players who can hold the ball up top while giving the rest of the team time to join in the attack.

"I think we have a lot of options compared to the spring because now we can either play short or we can pass the ball back or we can go long," Rowdies forward Lucky Mkosana said. "We have tall guys now. It's going to be hard for teams to figure out our style of play because we can switch it anytime."

Ex-Rowdie DeBrito dies in car accident

Pedro DeBrito, a member of the Rowdies indoor and outdoor teams in 1981-84, died from injuries sustained in a car accident in Miami on July 5. DeBrito, 55, was on his way to work as a manager of the Drew Estate Cigar Company when the car he was driving hit a tree in the median.

Times staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report, which includes information from the Miami Herald.

Rowdies vs. Atlanta

When/where: 7:30 tonight; Al Lang Stadium

TV: Ch. 38

Tickets: Al Lang box office (opens at 4:30), toll-free 1-877-769-3437 (ROWDIES),