TAMPA — The Rowdies are roughly one-third of the way through their schedule, having played nine of 29 matches.
The Rowdies, with a 5-1-3 record and 18 points, and U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 leader Austin (20 points) have created some separation between themselves and the other 10 teams in the standings. The Rowdies are four points ahead of third-place Rochester.
For a first-year expansion club, the Rowdies have had impressive success. Leading up to Saturday's game at Vancouver, the challenge for coach Paul Dalglish is making sure his team doesn't get complacent.
"The guys have got to realize, although we've done well, we're nowhere near where we want to be," Dalglish said. "We've got to keep finding ways to improve and searching for ways to improve. Although we've done well, no one's getting carried away."
Defensive stalwart Rob Valentino, who has started eight games, echoed that sentiment.
"We just have to keep doing the things we've been doing and keep it simple," he said. "Don't let your highs get too high and your lows get too low. … This team has a good sense of where we're at. We know what we can accomplish, but we don't get ahead of ourselves."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN: The Rowdies have proven to be quite capable defensively, allowing 10 goals in their nine games. It's how the Rowdies have given up those goals — the majority on plays when the ball is returned to action after a stoppage — that has Dalglish searching for more consistency.
At Steinbrenner Field, all four scores the Rowdies have surrendered have come off dead ball situations: two penalty kicks, one corner and one free kick.
"There's not many teams that's actually scored against us in general play," Dalglish said. "What we've got to do is stop giving away as many silly fouls. We start doing that, it's going to be very tough the way we're defending for teams to score against us."
The Rowdies have committed 140 fouls, more than any other team. (Austin is second with 128). They've also allowed the second-most corner kicks, 47, three behind Vancouver.
One explanation Dalglish offers is the Rowdies' field, the shortest in the league at 100 yards long. By comparison, Austin's field is 120.
"You're much closer to the opposition, so it just encourages a lot of physical play," Dalglish said. "It adds to the excitement because you can go from attack to defend so quickly, but it also adds to the fouls. … We can still be a little bit more mindful of giving away free kicks."
KICKS IN THE GRASS: Midfielder and St. Petersburg native Chad Burt was back practicing Tuesday after being held out of team activities for one week for a violation of team rules. … Dalglish said everyone on the roster is basically healthy besides midfielder Erik Ustruck (ankle). … Midfielder Jeremy Christie played 90 minutes for New Zealand in a 1-0 win over Serbia in a World Cup warmup Saturday.