Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

Rowdies seek to end struggles at Al Lang

ST. PETERSBURG — Since moving to Al Lang Stadium before the 2011 NASL season, the Rowdies have been difficult to beat at the venerable, repurposed baseball stadium near the downtown waterfront.

Rowdies coach Ricky Hill likes to tell his team that Al Lang is a fortress and the Rowdies must defend their fort.

In 2014, however, the fort has been besieged by opponents.

Through three matches at Al Lang, the Rowdies have lost twice and drawn once, picking up only one of a possible nine points. The Rowdies are on a four-match winless streak at Al Lang dating to last season and have been outscored 13-6 during that stretch, which includes a 6-4 loss to Minnesota to close the 2013 campaign.

"I don't really have an answer," Tampa Bay midfielder Keith Savage said. "Obviously we want it to be our fortress. We come in confident, but for whatever reason, the ball's not bouncing our way at home right now. The stats come in and we're doing enough to win games, but we're not creating good enough chances."

In 47 total matches at Al Lang, including playoffs, the Rowdies have won 20, lost 12 and tied 15.

This season, the Rowdies have performed well on the road, with one victory and two ties. But points at home have been more difficult to come by.

"Sometimes, from a mental perspective, it's a lot easier to play away from home," Hill said. "I played with players when I was in my career at Luton (in England) that couldn't play at home because the expectation was too great for them. I always tell the guys that it doesn't matter whether you're home or away, it's the same philosophy. It doesn't change."

The Rowdies experienced similar struggles at Al Lang during last year's spring season, going 1-3-2 before the midseason break. The team didn't pick up its first home victory until July 4 against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the state rival whom the Rowdies host tonight.

"I don't know what it is, we've just got to get out of this funk," Rowdies defender and captain Frankie Sanfilippo said. "We need to get back to what we do best. We're playing well. We have a great team. We're like a family, but at the same time, we've just got to come together and win."

After winning the NASL title in 2012 at Al Lang, the Rowdies switched the orientation of the field, changing it from north-south to the current east-west configuration. Savage joked that the team hasn't been as potent at home since the shift.

"That's what I'm going with," he said. "We won the championship, switched the field. You don't switch what's not broken."

Whatever the reason, the Rowdies have two more chances before the league break for the World Cup to end their homefield misfortunes. Though the Rowdies are all but eliminated from spring season title contention, the team can still amass enough points to earn a wild card into the NASL playoffs (the first-place teams from each season and the teams with the two next-best overall records make the postseason).

Plus, the Rowdies are hoping a few positive results at home will carry over into the fall season. Last year, the spring season-ending victory over Fort Lauderdale spurred the Rowdies to a 4-1-2 record at Al Lang in the fall, including a four-match winning streak.

"If we can make the switch and start winning a stretch of games at home, then I see us in the top four at the end of the year," Savage said. "And that's when we'll be playing our best soccer."

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