TAMPA — As far as professional debuts go, Joe Donoho's was pretty special.
Donoho, a Jesuit High graduate, saw his first action during Friday's 2-1 win at Carolina, and in the 61st minute, the 6-foot-3 defender latched onto the end of midfielder Jeremy Christie's cross in the box to head in the Rowdies' first goal.
Donoho's defense against RailHawks left wing Gregory Richardson, one of the league's most dangerous attackers, was praised by Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish. And to top it off, Donoho celebrated his 25th birthday two days later. "I couldn't really have drawn it up any better," he said.
Donoho was born in Anchorage, Alaska, and moved to the bay area when he was 3. He lived in Brandon until the sixth grade, then moved to South Tampa and attended Jesuit. He never suited up for the Tigers' acclaimed soccer team. He chose to play basketball — soccer and basketball play in the winter — and ended up a standout.
Through his club soccer team, the Tampa Bay Kickers, Donoho earned a scholarship to Rutgers. He also had a preferred walk-on invitation to join the Scarlet Knights basketball team and basketball offers from lower-level schools.
Donoho thought about playing both sports at Rutgers because the college soccer and basketball seasons — essentially fall and winter, respectively — have only a small overlap.
"I was really burnt out after one season of soccer and couldn't see myself playing both sports," Donoho said.
Donoho transferred to Bradley during his junior year and finished his collegiate career with the Braves.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: The Rowdies have shown an impressive ability to score in the closing moments of games. In each of their past three, the Rowdies have scored in the final 10 minutes, either an equalizer or a winner.
Julian Valentin's header in the 82nd minute salvaged a 1-1 tie at Miami on May 1. Christie converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute to earn a point in the Rowdies' home opener against Austin on May 8. And Friday, Aaron Wheeler was the star, scoring in the 84th minute to propel the Rowdies to their second victory.
"I think it's an indication of the winning mentality of the team and also the desire to try to win games," Dalglish said. "We don't like leaving anything out on the field."
Dalglish put the Rowdies through rigorous preseason training, which could account for the ability to pull off late-game heroics. But more than anything, Dalglish credits the players' pride.
"It gives you pride as a coach that the players are playing so much for the jersey," Dalglish said.
AUSTIN, PART DEUX: Tonight's game at Austin is the second meeting between the teams. Dalglish indicated the Rowdies' game plan would be similar to the one that earned a 2-2 draw against the Aztex (4-1-1) on May 8. "There won't be any surprises," he said. "I think we know what to expect."
KICKS IN THE GRASS: Defender Rob Valentino is available tonight after serving a one-game suspension for a red card in the Rowdies' first meeting with Austin. Starting goalkeeper Daryl Sattler will return after missing the Carolina game with a triceps injury. … Erik Ustruck (ankle), Scott Buete (heel) and Adam Nowland (hamstring) are sidelined. Christie is out as he prepares for the World Cup as a member of New Zealand's national team. …The Rowdies are offering complimentary tickets to MacDill Air Force Base personnel for the home game against Puerto Rico on May 29. The tickets are paid for by contributions from individuals and companies through the Tickets for Troops program. For information on contributing, call toll-free 1-888-757-69347 before 5 p.m. May 26.