ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies won't have much to play for in their final game of the NASL spring season tonight against Minnesota United FC at Al Lang Stadium.
With just nine points through eight matches, the Rowdies have already been eliminated from championship contention, at least for the season's first half.
Their opponent, on the other hand, has plenty of motivation.
Minnesota (6-1-1) is in first place at 19 points with a three-point lead over New York and San Antonio, and needs only a win or tie tonight to claim the spring season title. The Rowdies are hoping to spoil the victory party.
With the league's summer break starting following tonight's match, the Tampa Bay Times caught up with coach Ricky Hill to get his thoughts on a few Rowdies-related topics as the team retools for the fall season.
On problems with the offense — the Rowdies scored only eight goals in eight matches, and only once (a 3-2 victory over Fort Lauderdale when the Strikers were down to 10 men) managed more than one goal in a game:
"We've never experienced it in the dearth that we have thus far. I would like to suggest it's a combination of things. We still haven't settled on the best combination for the side. We've tried numerous people through injury, through suspension, through loss of form or a little bit inconsistent form, but we haven't landed on the combination that will continuously look threatening.
I think we've had spells. …We've made so many … individual mistakes that's cost us goals. It kind of puts unnecessary added pressure on the other group to score goals, and then we have to score two to win. We haven't shown we can do that consistently so far this season."
On a formation change for the fall season:
"I really want to revert back to a 4-3-3 somehow, but it's getting the right three midfielders and the right three in the forward area, because it's not an easy system to play and everyone has their roles and responsibilities within that. I think … we haven't had enough time to adjust and to work at things."
On reasons for optimism heading into the fall season:
"I think in terms of my philosophy of how I want the team to play, the guys are beginning to understand what I want from them, the new guys.
We still have 10 new guys that we're trying to integrate into our system. I think they're now grasping that more, and now I'm looking for us to have a little bit more composed quality and incision in the final third."
On the possibility of denying Minnesota the spring championship tonight:
"It's all about us. … We're only concerned with getting three points (tonight), because if we do manage that, we'll be 3-3-3 going into the break, which isn't great or fantastic for our high standards that we've set, but it's also not totally disappointing. It means six games we've managed not to be beaten out of nine.
If we (win today), it will give us the confidence to move into the fall season with that impetus of two home victories, back to back, and we should hit the ground running. We bring in a new system potentially with a 4-3-3 if we have the personnel that we're looking at, and we'll try to win the fall season and try to go unbeaten. But, again, it's can we get back on a winning run? Can we build on an unbeaten run?"