TAMPA — In the end, it wasn't a lineup change, tactical formation switch or late-game substitution by coach Paul Dalglish that ended the Rowdies' goalless streak — 278 minutes entering Sunday's match against Miami — when Julian Valentin scored in the 36th minute.
All it really took was a word of encouragement from Valentin's wife, Kristen.
"It's funny. My wife and I were talking (before the game), and she was like, 'I know this is a lot to ask, but will you score for me today,' " Valentin said.
It was a request the 23-year-old defender had never fielded from his wife, underscoring how desperate everyone associated with the Rowdies had become for goals.
But when Mozzi Gyorio sent a well-struck corner kick into the box and Valentin latched onto the end of it with an accurate header, days — 21, to be exact — of frustration were eased.
Valentin's first thought was to look for his wife in the stands.
He found her. Pointed to her. They smiled at each other.
"Hopefully, that put the drought in the past and we can move on," he said.
In a year in which injuries have detoured for the Rowdies (6-7-5) what looked to be a promising first season in the U.S. Soccer Federation's Division 2 (the Rowdies entered June 5-1-3), Valentin headlines a handful of players — Aaron King, Pascal Millien, Long Tan and Takuya Yamada are the others — who have avoided the infirmary to play in all 18 league matches.
Valentin ranks first on the Rowdies with 1,525 minutes, which is somewhat of a departure from his first two seasons of professional soccer.
While at Wake Forest in 2007, Valentin required plastic surgery when he was cleated in the face late in the Demon Deacons' 2-1, NCAA-title-winning victory over Ohio State. That kept him sidelined for his first pro season, with the Los Angeles Galaxy, after being selected 29th overall in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft.
On loan to Cleveland City in the United Soccer Leagues First Division in 2009, Valentin suffered a season-ending break of the fifth metatarsal in his foot after seven appearances.
"This is my third year being a professional but really my first year … regularly playing week in and week out," Valentin said. "I'm still learning to adjust to it. … But that's one of the reasons why I came here, for a different opportunity and a place where I could be playing."
Two months after signing in February, Valentin was selected captain. That trust in the Lancaster, Pa., native has carried over to the field, where Valentin has started 17 of 18 matches, his only absence July 4 against Miami in an offensive-minded decision by Dalglish (Valentin entered as an 86th-minute substitute).
"He was probably one of the only candidates (for captain) that we seriously considered," Dalglish said. "To me, it doesn't really matter how old you are. It's how you live your life. The thing with Julian was, the captain's got to be someone who you can trust on and off the field to represent the organization. He ticks both of those boxes."
Valentin has proven to be reliable beyond his age, helping to steady a ship on the verge of capsizing.
"He does all the tedious stuff that goes unnoticed, which is so important and very much appreciated," Dalglish said.