TAMPA — Since the beginning of the Rowdies' season, coach Paul Dalglish has trumpeted the depth of young talent on his roster, saying he doesn't believe there's a team in the U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 that can match his squad's youthful promise.
With the Rowdies' recent injuries — eight players, five of them starters, sat out Tampa Bay's 2-0 win over Miami on Sunday — it has given younger players, many with little to no professional experience, an opportunity to shine.
Not including keeper Daryl Sattler, the average age of the Rowdies' 10 starting players Sunday was 23.2. Included was a core group of Mozzi Gyorio (20), Long Tan (22), Drew Yates (22) and Chad Burt (22) who have yet to reach their 23rd birthdays.
And after Sunday's victory, which ended an eight-match winless streak, Dalglish can't wait to have his full group back for the stretch run for a playoff berth.
"Each of the guys coming back, after the way the young guys performed on Sunday, have to get their place back," Dalglish said. "For all the guys who have experience, these young guys have done well. It makes the team selection easier because you know you can trust every player. When you have 20-odd players who can all play, it makes my job easier because I can't get it wrong."
The long week should allow the Rowdies to get back midfielder Jeremy Christie (groin), and newcomers Jonny Steele and Ricardo Sanchez, acquired from Vancouver in a trade last week, should challenge for minutes. Key players such as forward Aaron Wheeler, fullback Gordon Kljestan and midfielder Scott Buete will add experience to the mix when they return in upcoming weeks.
ADJUSTMENT PAYS OFF: The Rowdies' offensive output Sunday matched that of their past eight league games combined, partially because Tampa Bay made an in-game adjustment by steering away from its one-forward set and placing attacking midfielders Tan and Pascal Millien as forwards to the sides of Aaron King.
Dalglish said the move was made to attack Miami's back row wide. The adjustment led to Tan taking a team-high seven shots, and King scored his team-high fifth goal of the season.
"It was very pleasing that the young players showed such tactical awareness to be able to change during the game and exploit the weaknesses of the opposition," Dalglish said.
While Dalglish said the move was unique to Tampa Bay's opponent, it gave the coach confidence he could do the same in the future.
MOZZI SHINES: Gyorio is the Rowdies' youngest player, but injuries have given him the opportunity to play, and grow, as a center midfielder.
Gyorio tallied his first assist of the season on a corner kick that led to Julian Valentin's header to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead Sunday. His ball movement in the middle has been impressive.
"He is miles ahead of his age with his vision, touch and technique," Dalglish said. "We just need him to concentrate on the defensive side of the ball."
Dalglish did say, however, that Gyorio's block of Christian Gomez's shot in front of an open net in a one-goal game was the highlight of his day. Gomez had beaten Sattler, but Gyorio was there to boot the ball over the crossbar.
"I was most pleased with that," Dalglish said. "Him having that desire, he went to where he needed to be."
KICKS IN THE GRASS: The Rowdies host a New Zealand wine tasting with Christie, 5-7 p.m. Friday, at SideBern's in South Tampa. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at bernsfinewines.com. … With six days between games, Dalglish gave players an extra day off this week: "It's just as important to recover as it is to train." … Midfielder Stanley Nyazamba will be eligible for Saturday's game after sitting out Sunday for having his fifth yellow card.