ST. PETERSBURG — If ever the Rowdies are going to take advantage of homefield, there might not be a better time.
Tampa Bay's opponent tonight at Al Lang Stadium is Edmonton. Those who don't have their weather apps handy, we'll save you some time: Low temperatures are around 40, highs in the mid 60s these days in Edmonton.
Down here, different story. New Rowdies striker Tom Heinemann played for Ottawa the previous two seasons and knows what's in store for Edmonton. He even knows when the effects might become visible.
"Right around the 65- to 70-minute mark," Heinemann said. "That's when you really start to struggle with the humidity. And that's when we can hope to break away from them."
To this point neither team has done much breaking away.
Georgi Hristov's penalty kick goal for the Rowdies in the 85th minute of last week's 1-1 result at Miami is the only goal scored by either Tampa Bay or Edmonton in a total of four games. The Rowdies' opener was 0-0 against Indy.
But they have looked more dangerous, especially in the second half at Miami where Tampa Bay dominated the chances. Edmonton, meanwhile, has only managed two shots on target, drawing 0-0 at Rayo OKC before getting blitzed 2-0 at home by Minnesota.
The way Tampa Bay's defense has looked thus far bodes well for the chances of Edmonton's account staying closed.
"Indy had only a couple of chances on us, and those were mostly from set plays. Then Miami with four very good attackers, we limited them to only a couple shots on target," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "And it's not just the defenders and the goalkeeper, who tend to get all the glory. … Defending starts up front, and we've done very well to defend as a team."
New centerback Neill Collins was named to the NASL team of the week for his efforts alongside Darnell King, Tam Mkandawire and Ben Sweat. The only Miami goal came on a loose ball from a corner kick.
But on offense the Rowdies are still trying to grow consistent in attack, something made more difficult by a mix of new players.
"If but for a few feet, we're having a different conversation. The goals will come," said Heinemann, referring to several personal near-goals, particularly a point-blank shot in the opener and a header that was well saved by Miami's Daniel Vega.
Edmonton's Matt Van Oekel presents another strong goalkeeper challenge, saving his team the point by pushing aside OKC's late flurry, then keeping the Minnesota game from being completely out of hand.
It will be interesting to see if Campbell changes the lineup. Hristov came off the bench last week and made an obvious impact, so he could get a first start. And forget starting: Will the Rowdies' Freddy Adu even make the list of seven eligible subs, which he has not done this season?
"It's very difficult," Campbell said of the lineup decisions. "It's a tough thing, but it's my job to put who I consider the best 18 players out on the pitch on a Saturday. It is a hard job."
He has another option now in 24-year-old British attacker Eliot Richards, who officially joined the squad Friday.
Campbell agrees the weather conditions might make the job harder on Edmonton.
"I can't imagine the (cold) in Edmonton. It feels like the height of summer here, so I imagine it's gonna be an advantage for us," he said.