Saturday, November 25, 2017
Sports

Tampa Bay Rowdies on a tear thanks to rooted roster

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TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Rowdies are on their most prosperous run in recent team history, having won six of their past seven matches. And probably the biggest key to their success has been continuity within the lineup.

Tampa Bay's starting 11 has remained nearly identical during the sizzling stretch, save for some tinkering with the three forwards. In five of the past six games, the personnel in midfield and on the back line stayed the same; the only tweak coming when Andres Arango started in place of J.P. Rodrigues on July 12 at Minnesota because of his red card in the previous game.

"I think everybody just has a good understanding of each other, and I think that's what's been helping us out for the last six weeks," said captain Frankie Sanfilippo, who was named the NASL's Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after scoring a goal in the 2-0 win over Puerto Rico on July 21.

Sanfilippo is one of three Rowdies — along with fellow defender Takuya Yamada and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella — who have played every minute of every game this season, ensuring more than half the defense is the same every time out.

In 2011, Tampa Bay struggled to field a consistent lineup and had to overcome major injuries. Goalkeeper Daryl Sattler tore his ACL in the fourth game and was lost for the season. Chad Burt's fractured foot sidelined him nearly three months. A thigh bruise and ankle injury kept Arango in and out of the lineup.

Rodrigues had midseason arthroscopic knee surgery and also missed time after a callup from the Guyana national team. Another defender, Yendry Diaz, never made it to the field after tearing his ACL in preseason, and Jeremy Christie played in only five late-season games after offseason hip surgery.

What resulted was a string of uneven performances. The Rowdies won back-to-back games only once last season.

This season has been more fortuitous in terms of injuries, leading to greater cohesion and more victories.

"I think the spirit of the side right now is fantastic," coach Ricky Hill said. "I just really think there's a camaraderie amongst the group that you'd go a long ways to find where everyone seems to be very comfortable with everyone else and, in terms of professionalism, it's where we want it to be."

More good injury news: Defender Draymond Washington, one of the few Rowdies to sustain an injury this season, will be available for selection tonight for the first time since tearing the medial meniscus in his right knee June 9 at Puerto Rico. He returned to practice after the team's win at Edmonton on July 15.

Remember me? The Rowdies (well, technically, FC Tampa Bay) received a mention Wednesday during the ESPN2 broadcast of the MLS All-Star Game. Justin Morrow, who last year around this time was on loan to Tampa Bay from MLS's San Jose Earthquakes, made his first all-star appearance, starting at left back for the MLS All-Stars.

Morrow started two games during his short-lived loan, his second stint on loan to Tampa Bay. His first came a year earlier during the final five matches of the 2010 season.

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