Saturday, July 21, 2018
Sports

Rowdies face Miami seeking to continue momentum in run toward playoffs

ST. PETERSBURG — It was not too long ago the numbers just weren't adding up for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Five losses in six games tends to have that effect.

And right around that time, the nadir of this Rowdies season, their head coach had another number in mind. He gathered his players into the locker room and let them in on it.

"We had a little chart made up," Stuart Campbell said. "It showed where we stood, and how many points we needed to finish up to go to where we needed to be."

Don't even ask the question of what that final number, as it's saved for the "sanctuary" of the room — but safe to say the Rowdies are closing in on that figure.

Tampa Bay (9-8-8) enters Saturday night's meeting with Miami FC as the hottest team in the NASL and in playoff contention. With an undefeated September, the Rowdies scooped up 11 points from a possible 15 (three wins, two draws) and inched within one point of Minnesota, holder of the fourth and final playoff spot at 36 points.

A 2-0 loss at Minnesota on Aug. 17 had the Rowdies seven out and in need of help. They've gotten it in the form of three straight Minnesota losses, and Tampa Bay has held up its end.

"We haven't really concerned ourselves with other results. But I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't have a slight glance," Campbell said. Two weeks ago Tampa Bay's push gained major headway when, shortly after it defeated Carolina 1-0, Minnesota blew a late 2-1 home lead to Ottawa.

The Rowdies followed that up last Saturday with the goal outpouring that Campbell could see coming. Georgi Hristov scored three — more than his entire 2015 output — for the first modern-day Rowdies hat trick in a 4-1 triumph at Fort Lauderdale. Hristov leads the team in goals with eight, one more than Joe Cole and fifth overall in the NASL.

"I felt that result's been coming for a long time. The amount of opportunities we've been creating, it was a matter of time really before it clicked and we went in and actually punished an opponent," he said.

The trick is to keep it going. Miami is tied with Tampa Bay, overcoming a two-match losing streak Wednesday with a stoppage time 2-1 victory over Ottawa. Miami was last in the spring season but second in the fall, six points off Fall leaders New York.

Miami will play its sixth game since Sept. 11, while the Rowdies have played two fewer on the same span. But Campbell thinks Miami is deep enough to not be affected.

With Indy guaranteed a postseason spot due to its spring title and New York well on top with 52 points overall, third-place Edmonton is the only other team in range (44 points).

Tampa Bay take control of fourth place in the next several days, as Wednesday Minnesota comes to Al Lang.

"It would have sounded crazy 4-5 weeks ago," Campbell said. "It felt we weren't getting the results our performances deserved. So it's been pleasing to turn things around. It's making for an exciting finish."

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