TAMPA — FC Tampa Bay controls its fate in clinching a first-round home playoff game — a win Saturday against Minnesota will seal that — but coach Ricky Hill said his team is playing for more than the postseason.
The club is the healthiest it has been since the preseason, and the postponement of last Saturday's match at Puerto Rico to Sept. 21 gave Tampa Bay added rest. Beset by injuries this year, 22 different players started at least one match and FC Tampa Bay has had 20 starting lineups in 25 games.
Hill now has 22 healthy players at his disposal.
"It will be disappointing for some because some won't play, but it's great to have the options to choose from," he said. "There are other people itching to come in and do the job. Our practices have become more intense. The quality has improved."
FC Tampa Bay, 8-3-3 in its last 14 games, is in third place and, with three games remaining, is in a good spot to host a first-round playoff game Oct. 1 at Al Lang Stadium. But Hill said these last few games are hardly about sealing a seed.
"They're playing for next season too," he said. "They must know in the back of their minds how long they've got. So in order to be here next year, their level of performance has to be at a certain level."
Honors for Gyorio: Midfielder Mozzi Gyorio was named NASL offensive player of the week after scoring the winning goal in the 2-1 win Sept. 6 in Minnesota. The score, in the 77th minute on a free kick, clinched the team's first playoff berth.
Driver's seat: FC Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker over all teams vying for the No. 3 seed. Wins on Saturday and Tuesday in Puerto Rico would clinch the third seed. Otherwise, the finale vs. Fort Lauderdale could determine that spot.
Kickin' it with FC Tampa Bay M/D Shane Hill
The son of FC Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill talks about making adjustments on the pitch and playing for his father.
When you arrived here, you were a forward, but you've come into your own as a defensive midfielder. How has that adjustment been?
I played a couple games in England as a center back. I really liked learning the position in training. And midfield is my main position, so it's been easy.
What's it like playing for your father?
It's easy actually. I forget he's my father sometimes out here because I call him Coach, and we're here to work. He's hard on me, but he's fair. … He's coached me all my life really, since I started walking at 1 1/2. In England, we'd go to the park every day, so nothing's changed. It's just a team environment now.
This is your first time playing in the United States. What has it been like?
I've gotten a chance to get used to the climate and the conditions. I've worked a lot on my fitness and now I'm comfortable. Hopefully, it's showing on the pitch. … I wouldn't say it's more physical in England. It's not too much different.
If you weren't a soccer player, what would you be?
When I was younger I was a good cricket player. I had to choose between the two when I was 11 or 12.