Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sports

Rowdies hope for return to winning form vs. Richmond

ST. PETERSBURG — Sure, the Rowdies would liked to have gone through a 16-game home schedule without a blemish. It didn't look like the most far-fetched notion during their 3-0 start at Al Lang.

"You hope that you go undefeated," said midfielder Leo Fernandes. "But things like this are going to happen."

In this case the "thing" was a dagger of a last-minute defeat dealt last weekend by visiting Charleston, which took advantage of Tampa Bay's efforts to push up for a tiebreaker, countering for an 89th-minute marker and 3-2 victory.

For the first time the Rowdies (3-2-1) find themselves having their resolve tested, at least at home. They face Richmond (2-3).

"Yeah, it is an opportunity," said leading scorer Georgi Hristov. "In soccer, even the biggest clubs in the world face this tough, I would call it a mini-crisis, but it's totally normal. We can't win all the games. It's a good test for us now to see, and come back with a win on Saturday."

It has been a while since Tampa Bay posted three points. After starting off with three straight at home, the Rowdies went loss-draw on the road before last week's second defeat.

Tampa Bay did not allow a goal during the win streak but has surrendered six since.

"When you score two goals at home, you should be taking three points," coach Stuart Campbell said. "Especially given the amount of ball possession (69 percent) and set plays we had (against Charleston), but it wasn't to be. We got caught a couple of times."

It does offer Campbell the first chance to see his group's response to a home setback. If this week's practices prove portending, Saturday should mark a return to the win column.

Veterans like Hristov, Joe Cole, Marcel Schafer and Matt Pickens have been visibly encouraging.

"We were looking to see how they would respond if I'm honest, and they've been great all week," Campbell said. "Real positive vibe about the place. At the start of the season when we won the three home games, it was important the veterans kept the young players' feet on the ground. And now it's important they go 'round and say, 'Hey, it's one game, don't beat yourselves up about it.' So that's a big thing. The atmosphere about the club, the franchise, the way it's moving, (it's) a very good place to be."

After being in the best spot, namely atop the Eastern Conference standings in the USL, Tampa Bay (10 points) is now fourth. That's only two out of first but the top two clubs (Charleston, 12 and Louisville, 11) have played one fewer.

Richmond comes in at ninth place (out of 15), just ending a three-game slide by topping Pittsburgh 2-1. Before that the Kickers had only scored one goal.

"It's been just six games; we have so many more left," said Hristov, adding practices have been "very focused, very dedicated" this week.

Added Fernandes: "We played 11 vs. 11 the other day and really got after it. It's been a great week. Just happy the next game is at home so we can set out to win, and prove a point, that hopefully (the home loss) never happens again."

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