Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Sports

Rowdies have tough trek ahead

ST. PETERSBURG — Over the past two weeks, the Rowdies have logged travel miles like a touring rock band.

Starting with a trip June 2 to the North American Soccer League's farthest outpost in Edmonton, the Rowdies accumulated more than 11,000 miles through the air in 13 days.

The trip to Edmonton, which connected through Atlanta, was followed by a direct flight to Raleigh, N.C., for Saturday's league match at Carolina. On Tuesday, the Rowdies flew to Portland, Ore., again through Atlanta, for their fourth-round U.S. Open Cup match against the Timbers. Then they returned to Tampa on Thursday, though in three groups as a flight that could accommodate the entire team was unavailable.

All of the travel has disrupted the practice schedule. The team held an abbreviated training session Monday before departing for Portland. On Thursday, which normally would have been used to prepare for the weekend's upcoming league match, was spent traveling. And Friday's practice was cut an hour short to rest the players' road-weary legs.

"With Cup football, you reward yourself by getting to the next round, but you're also hurting your league performance as well at times," midfielder Luke Mulholland said. "(Coach) Ricky (Hill) does a good job reading people's bodies and not overworking us in training so we're fresh for the games, but it takes a toll."

The Rowdies went 0-2-1 on their longest road swing of the season and lost two matches in a row for the first time since June last year. They'll try to regain their form tonight against San Antonio at Al Lang Stadium, the team's first home game since the historic victory over Seattle (May 29) that seems so long ago.

"We've hit an unlucky patch right now," Mulholland said. "Hopefully, we'll start to get a little more luck on our side, the ball will bounce our way for a change."

With three games left in the NASL spring season and league-leading Carolina ahead by three points with a game in hand, the Rowdies can't afford any more missteps. A loss tonight coupled with a Carolina victory over Edmonton on Sunday would virtually eliminate the Rowdies from contending for the spring season championship.

In that scenario, the best the Rowdies could do is tie Carolina for the title. The first tiebreaker is goal differential. Currently, the Rowdies are plus-one. Carolina is plus-five.

"Credit to the players, they've never used anything as an excuse regarding travel or fatigue," Hill said. "They come to work focused every day. With that said, we have to now go on our best run. Anything less than that and it'll be slightly impossible that we'll finish first in the spring season."

Eliminated from the Cup competition after the 2-0 loss at Portland of MLS, the Rowdies return to some level of normalcy for the remainder of the spring season with three matches in a 20-day period. Two of the final three are at Al Lang, where the Rowdies have yet to win in league play. Both home matches (San Antonio, Fort Lauderdale) are against the teams occupying last place in the league standings.

Sandwiched between those home contests is a road match at Atlanta, a team the Rowdies led 3-1 before allowing three unanswered goals in a 4-3 loss.

"I'm pleased with the level of performance this season," Hill said. "I'm pleased with the level of focus, concentration, fitness and desire. I'm just hoping that (tonight) we get that little bit of luck that every team needs, that luck that we didn't get on Wednesday."

. Tonight

Rowdies vs. San Antonio

When/where: 7:30; Al Lang Stadium

Records: Rowdies 3-3-3 (12 points, fourth); San Antonio 2-4-2 (8, tied sixth)

Tickets: Box office (opens at 4:30), rowdiessoccer.com or (813) 287-1539

Notes: M Shane Hill was suspended two games by the league for a skirmish after Saturday's loss to Carolina. The Rowdies are appealing but won't learn the outcome until Wednesday. … D Andres Arango, red-carded vs. Carolina, also will have to sit out. D Jordan Gafa, normally a right back, will switch to left in Arango's absence.

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