Sunday, July 22, 2018
Sports

Rowdies hoping for stronger, winning homestands

ST. PETERSBURG — As bad as the most recent Rowdies performance was, a 4-1 loss last Saturday at Carolina, it brought to bear something even more bothersome to the head coach.

"We've tied too many games at home," Stuart Campbell said. "If we'd have taken care of business against Jacksonville (a 1-1 tie on July 2), the Carolina game wouldn't be magnified so much. We've drawn too many games."

Meaning, had the Rowdies banked three points rather than one from the occasions Campbell references, the occasional stinker wouldn't hurt so much. Given the Rowdies have played six home games and tied three (winning two), that math would have them sitting third in the NASL's overall standings rather than tied for fifth, 17 points through 12 games.

So about that stinker.

"We had a bad day at the office," Campbell said. "We were bloody rubbish. It was the first time we'd have to all hold our hands up and say, 'It wasn't good enough.' "

Clearly the Rowdies suffered from the injury losses of defenders Tam Mkandawire and Neill Collins. Symbolically their replacements, Stefan Antonijevic and Frankie Sanfilippo, committed handballs in the penalty box to set up the second and third Railhawks goals.

But apart from that, Carolina controlled play, the lone Tampa Bay goal coming on a professional fall by Eric Avila when he was fouled in a nonthreatening position in the penalty box. It did result in a positive — Georgi Hristov's fifth goal of the season.

Five is also how many penalty kicks Tampa Bay has allowed, though goalkeeper Matt Pickens nearly saved both against Carolina.

"He's turning into a bit of a penalty kick expert, but we're not really helping him. Five has got to be some kind of record. I want my team to be aggressive but … ," Campbell said.

The coach hoped one of his injured back four — neither Mkandawire nor Collins had missed a minute of regular-season play until getting hurt during the Jacksonville contest — could return for tonight's game, but he called both game-time decisions.

Tampa Bay faces an opponent tonight that's also sick of ties. Puerto Rico, which entered the league after the spring season, led 1-0 in its opener against spring champion Indy but gave up a 93rd-minute goal. On Wednesday, Puerto Rico led 2-0 through 80 minutes at Rayo OKC before settling for 2-2, the equalizing goal coming on a penalty in the 90th minute.

With half the league off Wednesday, Campbell took in the latter contest.

"They're a big, strong team. They've performed well in their three games, probably feel a bit unlucky they haven't won one of them. I'm happy to have them back in the league," he said.

The Puerto Rico Islanders were in the NASL from 2010-12. For the new franchise, Hector Ramos has led the way with a goal in all three games.

Campbell's bunch should be ready to put its most recent outing behind it.

"That one certainly hurt my pride, I hope it hurt the players' pride," he said. "This week I've asked for them to stand up and be counted, and put on a show for their fans who so deserve it. I'm hoping it was a kick in the backside for us. I'm confident the team will respond."

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