ST. PETERSBURG — Prior to the Rowdies' friendly Friday against in-state rival Fort Lauderdale at Al Lang Stadium, coach Ricky Hill said the monthlong break between the NASL spring and fall campaigns has served to re-energize his squad as much mentally as physically.
After a disappointing showing — two wins, three losses and four draws — in the first installment of the 2014 season to finish in a tie for sixth in the 10-team NASL, the Rowdies were eager to prove the spring was an aberration.
The results were all positive against the Strikers in front of a crowd of 4,105: The Rowdies moved the ball fluidly on their new grass field. They created scoring chances, and most important, the team picked up a morale-boosting, 3-1 victory ahead of next weekend's fall season opener.
"For long periods of the game, it looked like it was going to peter out just to be a draw," Hill said. "Credit to the guys to keep going and produce a couple of moments of good quality."
Argentine forward Luciano Olguin scored the winner in the 88th minute a day after signing. Evans Frimpong crossed toward the far post, where Olguin was racing to one-time a shot into the Fort Lauderdale goal. "I tried to get in front of the defender. Evans made a perfect cross, and I was lucky to push it in," Olguin said. "This is a good opportunity for me. … It's very important for a striker to score goals."
Less than a minute later, Amani Walker, seeing his first action since tearing an ACL on Aug. 3, 2013, put the game away by driving a Strikers mistake into the net.
"It was a lot of hard work and drive and motivation that goes into coming back," Walker said. "Just being able to step on the field and put on a Rowdies jersey again, I'm happy. I'm very, very happy right now."
Tampa Bay scored first in the 20th minute, Casey Townsend dribbling into the box from the right wing and ripping a shot to the far post. The goal was set up by trialist Ricardo Morris, who delivered a 50-yard pass into the path of Townsend, streaking unmarked.
Fort Lauderdale tied it in the 36th minute. Midfielder Manny Gonzalez controlled a loose ball at the edge of the 18-yard box and blasted a shot at goalie Cody Mizell, who got his right hand on the ball but pushed it off the bottom of the crossbar and into goal.
Matt Pickens, playing for the first time since May 17 (quad injury), started the second half in goal for the Rowdies and made three point-blank saves to keep the score tied.
Rowdies move: The team also signed central defender Tamika Mkandawire on Friday. The Malawi-born 31-year-old is a veteran of English soccer, most recently last season at Shrewsbury Town.