After spending much of the season's first half on the road, the Rowdies embark on a second half that includes 10 of their final 15 regular-season games at home. Here's a look at how Tampa Bay has fared thus far:
W-L-T2-1-2, 8 points
Goals per game 1.8
Goals allowed per game1.2
W-L-T3-5-2, 11 points
Goals per game1.0
Goals allowed per game1.1
TAMPA — The FC Tampa Bay Rowdies have spent most of the season's first half in airport terminals and on buses.
Now, at the halfway mark, it's time for them to come home.
Tonight's game against Puerto Rico at Steinbrenner Field marks the first of a four-game homestand, a stretch that includes 10 home games in the regular season's final 15. The Rowdies also play three home games in 10 days.
The timing couldn't be better.
The Rowdies (5-6-4, 19 points) have just one point in their past five games, dropping from second in the USSF D2 USL Conference to fifth. Tampa Bay has played well at home, going 2-1-2.
"There are definite advantages," coach Paul Dalglish said. "You don't have to travel, you can prepare, you can sleep in your own bed. People are just more mentally happy playing at home. The fans are behind you. It all helps. It's a good stretch to look forward to."
Rowdies captain and fullback Julian Valentin said he and his teammates have been eagerly anticipating this part of the schedule.
"We're confident going into the second half of the year," Valentin said. "Steinbrenner (Field) is an advantage for us. I still believe we're on track. The points we've dropped have been on the road. We obviously wish we could have gotten more out of it.
"As we go into this stretch, hopefully we can start racking up the points. We're still pretty confident with where we are."
STRIKING FIRST: Tampa Bay enters tonight 0-5-1 in its past six league games. In most of those games the Rowdies played from behind and had no first-half offense.
Dating to the team's last league win — 2-1 over Puerto Rico on May 29 — the Rowdies have led just once. That game was also the last time Tampa Bay had a first-half goal, when Aaron Wheeler scored in the 43rd minute.
The only other time the Rowdies have led was in their 1-1 draw with Miami. Midfielder Jeremy Christie scored in the 82nd minute, then Miami scored in extra time to tie.
"It's big for us to score first, to make sure we have the right mentality most importantly," Valentin said. "We want to come out and be aggressive and really push for that first goal because mentally when we go down, it definitely takes the wind out of our sails a bit. We want to make sure we come out the right way.
"We have a lot of young guys, and learning week in and week out what it takes to be a good professional takes some time. I think as we grow up, we'll learn all those things."
INJURY UPDATE: Dalglish said he's doubtful Christie (concussion-like symptoms) will play tonight, but held out hope for his return July 22. Defender Gordon Kljestan (knee tendinitis) could also return next week. Wheeler (shin stress fracture), Erik Ustruck (broken leg) and Scott Buete (hernia) could return, at the earliest, by the end of the homestand July 31.
"Hopefully, we can get some of our players back for this spell," Dalglish said. "It's very tough times right now with all the injuries we have to key players."
KICKS IN THE GRASS: The Rowdies will continue their "Thirsty Thursday" promotion for the next two home games. Draft beers will be $1 from 6-7:30 p.m. … The Rowdies are launching a kids club. For $15, fans 12 and younger will receive a game ticket, T-shirt, admission to an exclusive kids club clinic, on-field access and merchandise discounts.