TAMPA — Increasingly, the Rowdies, playing their inaugural season in the U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2, have been controlling more and more of the possessions.
They held the edge in a 1-0 loss at Minnesota on April 24. And in Saturday's come-from-behind 1-1 tie at Miami, the Rowdies (1-1-1) kept the ball for much of the game before finally getting rewarded with Julian Valentin's 82nd-minute header.
That has coach Paul Dalglish optimistic heading into Saturday's home opener against Austin.
"We're ahead of schedule. I just think being an expansion team, if you look at the performances of our first three games, I think our worst performance was against Baltimore (in the season opener), when we won (1-0)," Dalglish said Wednesday after practice over the hum of power washers preparing Steinbrenner Field for Saturday.
"We've been really unlucky in the last two games. We've dominated possession in both. I mean we peppered the goal against Miami, and their goalkeeper came up big on numerous occasions and kept them in the game. I just think it's so positive, the early signs, how the team's progressing."
The Rowdies forced Miami's Caleb Patterson-Sewell to make what Dalglish called "five or six world class saves" after Valentin broke through and were unlucky in not coming away with the three points that come with a win.
Maybe a sign the Rowdies are poised to break out of their scoring slump?
"The worrying thing is when you don't create goal-scoring opportunities," Dalglish said, "because I know these guys can finish."
OPENING NIGHT: More than 5,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday's game, and Rowdies officials are hoping to come close to selling out. (Capacity is 8,000 but can be expanded to 10,000.)
The players are looking forward to performing in front of a raucous crowd, especially after opening the season with three road games that drew an average of just more than 1,600.
"I love when there are a lot of people at the game to cheer me on, to watch the game and have a love for the game," Rowdies midfielder Pascal Millien said. "That makes me feel like I want to work more to give them something so when they go home, they say, 'I had fun at the game.' "
GRADUATION DAY: Saturday will be the highlight of a big week for Millien.
Hours before the game, Millien will attend his graduation ceremony from the University of Tampa at the St. Pete Times Forum. Millien, who celebrated his 24th birthday Monday, will receive his bachelor's degree in sports management.
The Haitian-born Millien, who went to high school in Auburndale, will have plenty of family on hand for both events.
"It's been like having two full-time jobs," he said. "It was kind of tough, but it's going to be an emotional moment, seeing some of my friends for the last time."
THE INSIDE DIRT: The Rowdies practiced at Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday and Wednesday to get a feel for the playing surface. The grass turf drew rave reviews.
"The turf is incredible," Dalglish said. "It's what you come to expect from the Yankees. Everything they do is top class."
The dirt infield, not so much.
Defender Robert Valentino took a hard spill on the packed, concrete-like dirt after going up high for a header and crashing on his back.
"I'll probably feel it (in the) morning, but I'll be good," he said.
Only a small portion of the field — in the corner near the goal — will be dirt, but the Rowdies hope to use it to their advantage.
"We know what to expect," Dalglish said. "So we can get used to it."
KICKS IN THE GRASS: Rodney Marsh, a great on the Rowdies' old NASL teams, was at Wednesday's practice. He'll be doing color commentary at Saturday's game for Bright House Sports Network. … All of the former Rowdies will be honored in a pregame ceremony Saturday. … The Rowdies visited patients at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg on Wednesday after their two-hour training session. … Steinbrenner Field will undergo its complete transformation from baseball stadium to soccer facility Friday morning.