ST. PETERSBURG — For the sixth league match in a row and eighth time in the last nine overall, the Tampa Bay Rowdies gave up the first goal of the match Saturday when the Indy Eleven's Kleberson rifled a 25-yard shot past goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 38th minute.
It's an oft-repeated scenario that perplexes coach Ricky Hill, who stresses the importance of scoring first in every pregame speech. "Why is it always us chasing games?" Hill said. "We have to score two goals to win every game, minimum."
Despite trailing, the Rowdies have been resilient. Of those last six league matches, they have rallied to win three and draw another. "To come back and salvage points from the game is credit to the guys' mentality, to their will and desire to compete for 90-plus minutes," Hill said.
Maybe the Rowdies play better when behind?
"I think we'll be better when we score first because other teams will have to come out a little bit more and come at us," Hill said. "I think we're good when we have that extra little bit of space because the opposition is throwing more men forward, and I'd love for that to be the case where we can actually see it one day and exploit it one day."
Mkandawire shines: Despite joining the team eight days before the start of the fall season and without playing a match in over two months, Malawi-born center back Tamika Mkandawire put in a full, 90-plus minute shift against Indy, spearheading an impressive performance by the back line. Mkandawire, a vocal leader on the field having 11 seasons of experience in England and captaining Shrewsbury Town of League Two (fourth tier English soccer) last, replaced veteran defender Takuya Yamada, who, before Indy, injured the opposite hamstring of the one that sidelined him the second half of the spring season. Yamada didn't dress for Indy. "(Being vocal) is about having experience and having the confidence to give instructions and rally the team around you and try to direct the players and myself," Mkandawire, 31, said. "It helps me. If I'm talking, it helps me stay in the game."
Pickens in pain: Pickens continues to feel the effects of a quad injury suffered partway through a 3-0 loss to the New York Cosmos (May 17). Pickens has played a full 90 in both of the Rowdies' fall season victories but has been uncomfortable taking goal kicks and other dead balls.
"When he has to come through the middle on a stationary ball, he has problems in terms of himself not being comfortable until he's got his maximum strength back," Hill said.
In Saturday's win over Indy, defender J.P. Rodrigues took the majority of dead ball kicks normally handled by the goalkeeper.
"It's not ideal. It's not something we want to do indefinitely," Hill said. "But at this moment in time, that's the best we can do."
Second-half spark: Midfielder Evans Frimpong started seven of the Rowdies' nine spring season matches but has developed a role as a late-game energy burst in the fall. Against Atlanta, Frimpong entered in the 71st minute and set up the winning goal with a pinpoint corner kick to Georgi Hristov on the near post. At Indy, he outpaced a tiring defense with quickness and tenacity after coming on for the final 15 minutes. "Evans had moments of quality (in the spring) and a lot of moments where things were difficult for him in terms of productivity," Hill said. "Now, it seems every time he comes on, he's having an effect or an impact. He's threatening."