Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

Rowdies unconcerned after mediocre preseason

The defending North American Soccer League champion Rowdies open the season against Carolina on Saturday.

Before the game, the Rowdies will unveil the 2012 championship banner that will adorn the batter's eye beyond the outfield wall at reconfigured Al Lang Field.

To add a second banner, however, Tampa Bay needs to forget a less-than-encouraging preseason that saw it go 4-6, including three straight losses to third-division Orlando City.

All four victories came against collegiate teams, the six losses to pro squads.

"I'm not too concerned in regards to the results," coach Ricky Hill said before the start of his third season with the Rowdies. "I'm more concerned how we look collectively in terms of our physical presence and well-being. After Saturday's (loss to Orlando City), I was heartened because the second half was really, really good, and we can build on that. We've got a good side when everyone is fit and ready. I think the chemistry's great. The players are focused and ready to replicate last year."

One reason for optimism? Four losses, including three to MLS teams, came in February at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, before which the Rowdies had just three days of training.

"Every day in preseason, every day in practice, we're getting better and better," Rowdies captain and D Frankie Sanfilippo said. "The best thing about the preseason is getting your fitness in and getting a feel for the new guys. Once the regular season starts, we're all 110 percent ready to go."

Additions: Countryside High grad and Safety Harbor resident Kyle Clinton, a midfielder, signed after a preseason tryout. D Jordan Gafa, the 2012 University of North Carolina captain, also signed after a preseason tryout. … F Devin Del Do scored nine goals in three seasons (2010-12) with Minnesota. … F Georgi Hristov, 28, has played in Poland, Israel and, most recently, Bulgaria. … D Jay Needham was a top-notch central defender for Puerto Rico over the past two seasons. … GK Diego Restrepo keyed Virginia's NCAA national championship in 2009. … F Amani Walker, 6 feet 2, led Minnesota with nine goals (playoffs included) last season.

Subtractions: Clearwater native GK Jeff Attinella signed with Real Salt Lake of MLS. …F Daniel Antoniuk, who led the Rowdies with nine goals in 2012, was not re-signed. … Contract options were declined for D Eddie Ababio, F Matt Clare, M Dan O'Brien, F Fafa Picault and D J.P. Rodrigues (a Land O'Lakes High graduate).

Injuries: The absence of key players hindered the team during the preseason, and a couple of injuries will linger into the regular season. F Mike Ambersley, the 2012 points leader (25), saw only 15 minutes while battling a MCL sprain and won't play in the opener.

Carl Cort, the other half of last season's starting forward duo, has a strained calf and is "definitely out for Saturday and probably out for next Saturday" Hill said.

M Keith Savage is back practicing this week after suffering a slight tear of the meniscus in his left knee but will not start Saturday. Hill said Savage could be used as a substitute if needed.

D Draymond Washington is still recovering from a season-ending knee injury in June and is out indefinitely.

not-so-rowdy Rowdies: In his 17-year playing career, Hill said he was carded only twice, both yellows. Not coincidentally, Hill's Rowdies teams have been just as disciplined, earning the NASL's Fair Play Award — given to the team with the fewest red and yellow cards — in both of his seasons as coach.

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