With injuries ravaging the Rowdies as themidseason mark approaches, coach Paul Dalglish faces a challenge.
When Tampa Bay (5-5-4, 19 points but just one in its past five games) travels to Minnesota on Saturday, it will be without two key starters: Striker Aaron Wheeler is out six to eight weeks with a stress fracture in his right leg, and midfielder Erik Ustruck might miss the rest of the season with a broken leg.
Also, key defender Scott Bueteis also out six to eight weeks because of a hernia.
Now midfielder Jeremy Christie, who scored a goal Sunday in Miami in his return from playing for New Zealand in the World Cup, could miss the game. He has concussionlike symptoms after being hit in the head by the ball on a late free kick Sunday.
Matters could have been worse along the back row, but defender Joe Donoho, who missed Sunday's game due to injury, is back practicing.
During practice Wednesday, Dalglish tinkered with his lineup, trying players in different spots.
Tampa Bay has to find new ways of creating offense, especially with Wheeler, one of its top scoring threats, out for the long term.
"We're trying to make as many players as we can versatile, because we don't have the luxury of having a big squad," Dalglish said.
"We might have to call (players) in different positions than they're used to."
The Rowdies have one of the smallest squads in U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2. They carry 22 players, three of them goalkeepers.
Help arrived Wednesday in Andre Akpan, a forward who joins the team for at least the next month on loan from MLS Colorado. Dalglish said he hopes to get at least one more player on loan.
MORE ON CHRISTIE: Christie's availability for Saturday will depend on the results of a CAT scan scheduled for today.
While part of a defensive wall during stoppage time against Miami, Christie was hit in the head by the ball on a free kick by Christian Gomez.
Christie said he doesn't remember much about the game, even the goal he scored in the 82nd minute.
"There are a few things the boys have told me, but nothing I can remember myself," said Christie, who sat out Wednesday's practice. "They told me my goal was rubbish, but I don't think that's true."
Christie said he feels fine physically and would have practiced Wednesday were it up to him.
"I guess you have to take the advice of the experts," he said. "Maybe (the ball) might have hit me harder than I'm used to, but, I mean, it's one of those things that happens in football."
Dalglish said he's preparing to be without Christie on Saturday.
"I'm not too confident, to be honest, because anything with a head injury, if the doctors tell me not to play him, I don't play him," Dalglish said.
STARGAZING: The Rowdies have split two meetings with Minnesota (6-9-2, 20 points), losing 1-0 in the second game of the season and winning 3-1 on May 27 at Steinbrenner Field.
Dalglish would like to duplicate the effort of thewin, which might have been one of the Rowdies' best games all season. Tampa Bay scored three goals in the first 26 minutes.
"I think when we played them at home, we didn't give them a moment to settle or even breathe," Dalglish said. "That was the way you play soccer. Hopefully we can do the same in Minnesota. I know what to expect from them, so that helps."
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Rowdies vs. Minnesota
When/where: 8 p.m. Saturday, National Sports Center, Blaine, Minn.
Next home game: July 15 vs. Puerto Rico, 7:30 p.m., Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
Tickets:Toll-free 1-888-757-6934, fctampabay.com