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Rowdies trying to keep their chins up

Tampa Bay Rowdies players pressed on in practice this week, attempting to salvage a season and perhaps a franchise after owner Cornelia Corbett announced she wants to sell the team.

June already had been a tumultuous month for the Rowdies on the field before Corbett made her surprise pronouncement to the media. If no prospective buyers surface by the end of the season, she said, she will disband the team, which in its 19th season is Tampa's oldest professional sports franchise as well as the country's oldest continuously operating professional soccer club.

What was the reaction of the players?

"Shock," said rookie forward Brad Smith. "The hard part is we don't know what's going to happen. But we can't let this bother us. We've got games to win."

Injuries and sloppy play at critical times have saddled Tampa Bay with a 2-5 record in the American Professional Soccer League, making Saturday night's game against the last-place Montreal Impact (1-5) almost a must-win situation for the fifth-place Rowdies. Game time is 8:05 p.m. at Tampa Stadium.

After Saturday's contest, which concludes a three-game homestand, the Rowdies play six of their next seven games on the road.

"With the state of soccer in this country, most of us have been around teams that folded," said second-year midfielder Kevin Sloan, who came to the Rowdies when the Maryland Bays closed down after the 1991 season. "She's a first-class owner. There's no anger or hostility on the part of the players. I just wish her well.

"But it was unexpected because you figure she would want to be a part of the new national league that is supposed to be coming after next year's World Cup. But she's been here (nine) years and she said it's beginning to wear on her."

Despite the off-field distraction and the losing record, the players _ at least the ones who have avoided injury _ have maintained a positive attitude.

"Ejections and suspensions hurt us early and injuries have dictated which 11 players we've had out there in recent games, but the one thing that can't be faulted is our work ethic," said Tampa Bay coach Ken Fogarty between Thursday's double practice session.

"But that's not enough. We can't keep throwing away games by making individual lapses. That shows a lack of discipline. But we're making progress and we're not far from being a very good team."

The never-say-die attitude was evident in last Saturday's 5-3 loss to Fort Lauderdale. The Rowdies trailed 4-1 after a Strikers goal in the 80th minute, but roared back with goals by Steve Trittschuh and APSL scoring leader Paul Daugherty in the waning minutes to make it close. A Fort Lauderdale goal during injury time ended the comeback.

"They capitalized on the little mistakes we made," said Rowdies defender Tom Reasoner. "It was a battle and they seemed to battle a little bit more in the second half. We didn't really start battling until it was 4-1. We need to have that kind of urgency when it's 1-1."

The losses have occurred when the team momentarily lets its guard down, such as after it draws a foul or scores a goal, said 11-year Rowdies veteran Perry Van Der Beck.

"We need to concentrate for the full 90 minutes," said Van Der Beck, who has moved to sweeper from his midfield position to help shore up the injury-riddled defense. "What we're especially lacking is concentration on (opponents') set pieces. That's how Fort Lauderdale scored its first four goals last week, off dead-ball restarts. A good team will catch another napping and we got caught."

The Rowdies lead the league in scoring with 19 goals, but they also have allowed a league-high 19 goals.

Body count: Eight players sat out all or part of Thursday's training sessions. Seven of them have started games this season.

Derek Backman continues to recover from arthrscopic surgery on his left ankle performed last week. Backman played every minute of every APSL game last season, but has yet to play in 1993.

At least three other regulars are definitely out this week: defender Terry Rowe (stress fracture left leg), midfielder Gerard Gregoire (left knee strain sustained against Fort Lauderdale), and forward Jean Harbor (with the U.S. national team at the Copa America in Ecuador).

Midfielder Pierre Morice is training again and is listed as questionable for Saturday. Injuries to forwards Brad Smith and Michael Brady and backup goalkeeper Brett Phillips were considered minor.

Impact invades: Montreal's only victory of the season came at the expense of the Rowdies on May 21. The Impact got four second-half goals in a come-from-behind 4-2 win.

Since then, Montreal has not scored at all. The Impact has lost three consecutive shutouts and gone more than 271 minutes without a goal. The Impact has a chance to end the drought tonight at Fort Lauderdale before coming to Tampa. Nicola Zanone leads Montreal with two goals and one assist, all against the Rowdies.

Former Rowdies coach Eddie Firmani coaches the Impact.

Going for a milestone: A Tampa Bay victory Saturday would be its 200th regular-season outdoor triumph. Dating to 1975, the Rowdies are 199-187 in regular-season games, 19-15 in playoff games, and 11-15-6 in international matches. Tampa Bay also was 3-1 in last year's Professional Cup. That totals 232-218-6 overall. Indoor and exhibition games are not included.

Who says soccer is boring? The next time you hear about soccer's sleep-inducing qualities, fire back with this trivia: In the past two games at Tampa Stadium, 16 goals have been scored. The Rowdies whipped league-leading Vancouver 6-2 on June 6 before last week's 5-3 loss.

Translated into football scoring, that's 35-21 and 42-14 (if one soccer goal equals one touchdown plus extra point). And there's a bonus for hockey purists: Referees have handed out eight yellow cards in Tampa Bay's last two games.

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