TAMPA — The Rowdies returned to practice Monday after taking the weekend off to get physically and mentally prepared for the final five games of the United States Soccer Federation Division-2 regular season, a stretch that will make or break their playoff hopes.
Coach Paul Dalglish, whose team has been off since a 2-2 tie with St. Louis on Aug. 29, said practice Monday and Tuesday was as sharp as it has been all season.
"It's nice to give them a little break, a couple days off, to kind of regroup and spend time with their families; maybe go to a waterslide park or go to Busch Gardens," he said. "Enjoy themselves and take a little break from the pressures of training every day and being a professional athlete every day."
The Rowdies did not practice Wednesday to give themselves time to recover from the two intense sessions. They will work on tactical maneuvers today before leaving Friday for Saturday's game at Rochester. The Rhinos, whose 48 points are second in the league, won the teams' other meeting this season, 1-0 on July 22 in Tampa.
"We've come back looking fresh, so I'm very, very pleased with the time that we've had off," Dalglish said. "It gave us time to regroup and really refocus and start again."
DEFENDER Added: The Rowdies bolstered their defense, acquiring Justin Morrow via loan from San Jose of Major League Soccer.
Morrow, who helped lead Notre Dame to NCAA tournament appearances from 2006-09 as a midfielder and defender, was picked in the second round (28th overall) of January's draft by the Earthquakes.
"He's a decent player," Dalglish said Tuesday. "He's very, very quick."
Morrow made his pro debut April 14 in a U.S. Open Cup match against Salt Lake and his MLS debut May 1 against Colorado.
He had trouble cracking the Earthquakes lineup, however, and appeared in just two league matches.
Morrow, who will play left back for the Rowdies, can be recalled by San Jose at any time.
PLAYOFF PUSH: With five matches remaining, the Rowdies are holding onto the eighth and final playoff position. Tampa Bay and Minnesota are tied for eighth with 28 points, but the Rowdies have a game in hand. (St. Louis is two points behind them.)
Additionally, Tampa Bay's goal differential, the first tiebreaker, is zero compared with Minnesota's minus-11. The Rowdies host Minnesota on Sept. 24 in what could be a play-in game.
The playoffs begin Oct. 6.
Christie update: Midfielder Jeremy Christie hasn't played since coming in as a second-half substitute July 22 because of a groin injury. But Dalglish indicated Christie could be available for the home match with Austin on Sept. 16. A return for Saturday is unlikely.
"He's very, very borderline available for selection," Dalglish said. "I don't know if Saturday's game is maybe a little bit early. "If there's no setbacks, we should definitely see him, if not for Saturday's game, then the game after that."
Bryan Burns can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2216.