TAMPA — The Rowdies' lengthiest break between games this season gives them an opportunity not only to rest, but heal.
With Tampa Bay fighting for a playoff spot with five games remaining, coach Paul Dalglish said he hopes his team will be whole when it returns to the field Sept. 11 at Rochester.
The best news would be two of the top scoring threats, forwards Aaron Wheeler and Aaron King, being at full strength by the time the Rowdies face the Rhinos, who have the best record in USSF Division 2.
Wheeler, recovering from a shin injury, entered Sunday's 2-2 draw with St. Louis in the 30th minute. Barring setbacks, he should be able to start. King, who injured his hamstring Aug. 19 against Vancouver, said Wednesday that he plans to return to practice today.
King leads the team with nine goals, and Wheeler is tied with M Ricardo Sanchez for second with four.
"They've been responsible for a lot of goals," Dalglish said. "But I think Sanchez has come in and done a good job. It helps to have all of your good players back."
CHASING WINS: Despite being winless in their past seven games (0-2-5), the Rowdies remain in the playoff picture. With 28 points (6-9-10) they are tied for the eighth and final spot with Minnesota. Dalglish said he isn't worried about the winless streak, citing a string of bad luck.
"We're going to try to finish as high as we can, and if we finish fifth or sixth, then great," Dalglish said. "One thing I don't want to do is put too much pressure on the guys and make it all about winning. Because winning is a by-product of being confident and doing the right things.
"If you talk about games like they're do or die, all you think about it is winning and the performance suffers. You've got to make sure it's about your performance first and foremost, and the winning will take care of itself."
Granted, St. Louis' first goal Sunday appeared to come after the ball went over the end line, putting the Rowdies behind for the third consecutive game. Dalglish counted six times over the past three games the Rowdies have hit the post.
"The thing that's been so pleasing is the way we're finishing games," Dalglish said. "We're showing great fitness levels and great desire at the end of games. If we start games like that, there's not many teams who can play like that for 90 minutes."
KICKS IN THE GRASS: At the end of Wednesday's practice, Dalglish held a running session for four players who have been injured, and the whole team joined in. "Such is the attitude and spirit of this team," Dalglish said. "It's really pleasing as a coach to see, even at this point of the season, everyone is still trying to get better. … M Jonny Steele's goal Sunday was his first of the season. D Yendry Diaz's tying goal also was his first.
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at email@example.com.