ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies need to look no further than to their last opponent to realize how quickly fortunes can change in the NASL.
Three games into its fall season, Ottawa had totaled exactly zero points. But on July 23 the Fury went to Jacksonville and won 2-0, followed four days later by a same-score win over Carolina and then, yes, 2-0 over the Rowdies. Within eight days the Fury went from looking hopelessly out of the race to being in full contention.
Tampa Bay would love to go on such a run. The chance comes tonight as Fort Lauderdale, which like the Rowdies has just one win from six fall games, visits Al Lang Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30.
"We're halfway through the season now. We've got to go on a decent run here, and I know we have one in us," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said.
Though its situation is not as dire as was Ottawa's — the Rowdies are still three points up on the Fury in the overall standings — Tampa Bay has fallen further from the fourth-place playoff cut line. With just five wins in their first 16 matches, the Rowdies (5-5-6) are at 21 points, six behind fourth-standing Minnesota.
A number of roster additions have failed to produce the desired result, namely increased goal scoring. Tampa Bay has been shut out in its past two games, at Rayo OKC and then Ottawa.
"It's a concern, and it has been all season,' Campbell said. "The amount of chances we've created has been good, but they're not cutting-edge chances. We haven't shown that killer instinct, and we have to be more clinical in finishing."
It didn't help that Ottawa scored in the second minute last Saturday, putting a burden on a Rowdies group that had played three nights earlier and had a 14-hour travel experience. Campbell admitted his team looked "leggy" as the game wound on.
And both of the games were on artificial turf, something Campbell has tried to cover with practice sessions on turf but to no avail. Assuredly the Rowdies are glad to be back on the top-notch grass pitch at Al Lang.
"We definitely have the best surface in the league. The bounce of the ball on turf … it just doesn't run as fast as on grass. Not using (turf) as an excuse though, but we'd much rather play on grass," Campbell said.
Recent forward pickup Carlos Preciado had to sit out the Ottawa match due to visa issues but is available tonight. Martin Vingaard, also added three games ago, was on the field for all but the last 25 minutes of the Ottawa tilt.
And on Friday the Rowdies added yet another scoring threat, one from the Strikers no less. Pending USSF approval, 22-year-old Victor Giro, known as PC, could be on the field against his former side.
Campbell called it a "fantastic addition" to the club.
"He's a young, exciting player with loads of skill and energy. He's quick, he's got great touch on the ball and he's a hard worker," Campbell added.
PC played 46 games for the Strikers and can line up anywhere on the left side of the field.
"I am very happy to wear Tampa Bay's jersey, I hope I can help the team reach the playoffs. Anxious to play and give my best to my new club," said PC, who will jersey No. 94 for the year he was born.
With so many new faces Campbell says he's still looking for the right combination on the field. Now would be a good time, as after tonight the Rowdies have two more road games against top-four sides New York and Minnesota.
"I've said to the guys I firmly believe we can go on a real good run. And to make sure they're on the field when we do it," he said. "When we do win, we'll be less inclined to change things."