TAMPA — Since the reemergence of Tampa Bay's soccer franchise in 2010, one team continually confounds the Rowdies.
Puerto Rico has, in 10 games against Tampa Bay, won six and tied three. The only time Tampa Bay has beaten the Islanders came in the teams' first meeting on May 29, 2010 at Tampa's Steinbrenner Field.
The Rowdies have lost twice this season at Puerto Rico. Out of a possible 30 points, the Rowdies have claimed just six against the Islanders.
"I feel slightly aggrieved that we've taken no points off them this year," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "On the balance of play, we have warranted to get something. I'm sure if (Puerto Rico coach) Adrian (Whitbread) is in a generous mood, he would acknowledge that."
The Rowdies have yet to crack the Islanders defense this season, losing 1-0 April 7 in the opener and 2-0 on June 9. The series, however, isn't as lopsided as the results would suggest. In the last matchup, the Rowdies had the better run of play most of the game but allowed two goals in the final 10 minutes.
"We have to address it," Hill said. "There's no mystical reasoning as to why. And even (Puerto Rico's) players are coming to me after the game and saying stuff like 'Coach, I don't understand. It's as if we've got your number', because on the balance of play, they recognize that we're the ones that are taking the game to them. We're the ones that look more likely but then, through lack of communication, breakdown in assignment, they score. They're a very determined side."
The Islanders' success against the Rowdies lies in their style of attack. Puerto Rico doesn't look to keep possession and attack opponents through the midfield like the Rowdies.
Instead, the Islanders catch teams unaware on quick counterattacks, playing the ball directly to their three talented forwards — Nicholas Addlery (six goals), David Foley (five) and Jonathan Faña (four) — and letting the trio go to work against a scrambling defense.
"There's no doubt we can't fall asleep," Rowdies midfielder Keith Savage said. "They have three very good forwards and they go forward very quick."
Tonight at 7:30, when the teams match up for the third time this season and first at Al Lang Field, the Rowdies (8-6-3, third place) will enter more confident than any prior meeting, having won five of their past six and knocking off FC Edmonton on the road last weekend despite playing a man down for the majority of the game.
One major setback for the Rowdies tonight: forward Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, the NASL's player of the month for June, is serving a one-match suspension and won't play after picking up a red card against Edmonton.
"I'm expecting a better focus, a better mentality," Hill said. "I've asked the players in terms of how we approach games; for me, it's playoffs now, because you can't suddenly get that winning habit and all that. If you can't win, you don't lose. That's the mentality that we have to take forward."
A win over Puerto Rico (8-5-4, second place), coupled with a San Antonio loss to Fort Lauderdale tonight, would move Tampa Bay into first place. That, coupled with Tampa Bay's history against the Islanders serves, as plenty of motivation for the Rowdies.
"We want to win for (Hill). We want it for the guys who have been here the last few years who haven't beat them," Savage said. "We feel like we've deserved to beat them."