ST. PETERSBURG — The return of Japanese forward Tsuyoshi Yoshitake to the Rowdies has reenergized a lineup lacking creativity in recent weeks.
And it couldn't have come at a more critical juncture.
Yoshitake, 30, missed five matches, including both of the Rowdies' Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games, after colliding with an Atlanta player and injuring his chest May 19 in a 3-2 road victory.
Yoshitake played just three minutes, entering as a substitute in the 81st minute, and ended the evening in an Atlanta hospital where he stayed overnight.
Following nearly a month away, Yoshitake started June 16 at Minnesota, scoring a first-half goal and assisting on the winner in the Rowdies' 2-1 victory, salvaging three points from an otherwise dreadful road trip.
Then Saturday against San Antonio, Yoshitake had a hand in all three Tampa Bay goals, scoring two — including another winner — and drawing a foul to set up Luke Mulholland's free kick equalizer in the 88th minute. For that, Yoshitake was named North American Soccer League offensive player of the week two straight weeks (June 18 and 25).
"He came back fresh," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "Had a couple of weeks off through his injury, but he worked hard during that time for his own fitness. He's come back and it looks like he's hungry to maintain his position in the (team), to score goals, to create goals."
With Yoshitake absent, the team went 1-3-1, the only victory coming against Jacksonville United of the National Premier Soccer League. He is tied with Daniel Antoniuk for the team lead in goals (four) and points (10).
"He gives us a dimension whereby his work rate and movement up front can disturb defenses," Hill said.
TREND OF THE MOMENT: The team has given up 18 goals this season, all but two in the second half. The stat troubles Hill.
"It's a mental fatigue from us, it's a mental concentration," he said. "The hardest part of the game sometimes is the mental side of it."
In both games where the Rowdies conceded first-half goals, they rallied to win. At Minnesota (June 16), the Rowdies gave up their earliest goal of the season in the ninth minute. San Antonio went up 1-0 in the 31st minute at Al Lang on Saturday.
"Maybe we need that kick up the (butt) early on so that we can then push and go up teams," Mulholland said.
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES: Saturday's dramatic victory, where the team went from 2-1 down to salvaging a draw to earning three points in a matter of five minutes, has had a galvanizing effect this week.
"In the changing room straight after the game and all this week in training sessions, there have been good vibes," Mulholland said. "It's definitely very enjoyable right now to be a Rowdie."
Mulholland said he didn't want to leave the field after the game, opting to enjoy the win with the fans as long as possible. When he got back to the locker room, the team was in full celebration mode.
"It was a good feeling," he said. "Everybody was dancing in the locker room."
Everybody, that is, except Mulholland.
"Personally, I was tired from running," he admitted.