Will former Red Bulls give Rowdies an edge this weekend?

The Rowdies' Junior Flemmings, center, attempts to take control of the ball as Nashville SC's Bolu Akinyode joins the play during the first half Saturday, June 09, 2018 in St. Petersburg. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times)
The Rowdies' Junior Flemmings, center, attempts to take control of the ball as Nashville SC's Bolu Akinyode joins the play during the first half Saturday, June 09, 2018 in St. Petersburg. (CHRIS URSO | Times)
Published July 27 2018
Updated July 27 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Don't count the Rowdies surprised that the team coming to town Saturday leads the United Soccer League in goals. They've seen New York Red Bulls II's act up close already.

Although it was more than three months ago, the Rowdies will surely remember the 5-0 walloping that took place at Red Bull Arena.

"I know it's going to be a really good encounter," said Tampa Bay midfielder Junior Flemmings. "In terms of, not only tactically, but physicality. I think we're really ready, especially with (what happened in) that first game."

Both Flemmings and Stefano Bonomo, recently moved into the starting lineup up top, are keenly aware of Red Bulls II's scoring prowess — they were a big part of it themselves, combining for 41 goals in New York.

Flemmings was masterful last Saturday for the Rowdies, setting up a pair of first-half scores, then putting away Indy Eleven with a header of his own in the 3-1 home victory. The performance earned Flemmings USL Player of the Week honors.

The first assist was tremendous, Flemmings using his speed to net the Rowdies a goal despite it being a 2-on-4 situation. Bonomo one-touched the feed for his first Rowdies marker.

Bonomo, drafted out of Cal in 2014 by the Red Bulls, was part of the inaugural USL side formed in 2015, and ended up scoring 24 goals for them in 64 matches. That included two in his last outing for Red Bulls II before Tampa Bay came calling. Both Bonomo, 25, and Flemmings, 22, were on the New York 2016 USL championship side that outscored its opponents 61-21 and lost just three games.

Tampa Bay is thrilled to have the duo now.

"It was definitely part of our decision to bring in Stefano," said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. "The fact that we looked very closely at him and Junior's record together; they linked up very well. And their friendship's a good thing; I think relationships like that help. We can see in the couple of games they've played together (here) already how well they link up, and that's only going to get stronger. That's definitely exciting."

Tampa Bay (7-8-4, 25 points) is two points behind Ottawa and Charlotte, currently tied for the last playoff spot (eighth place) in the East. It  will be without leading goal scorer Georgi Hristov as he serves a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.

New York, with 31 points, is tied for fifth but only four points behind No. 2 Charleston. The Red Bulls II saw their three-match win streak end in a tough 2-1 outcome at first-place Cincinnati.

Amando Moreno leads New York with nine goals, with New York's 46 goals tops in the USL, and its shot total (388) a staggering 100 more than anyone else in the East. New York outshot Cincinnati 17-9 in the loss last weekend.

Among those charged to slow down New York, is the newest addition to Tampa Bay's roster. Pape Diakite. Signed less than two weeks ago, from his native Senegal, the defender performed very well — eight clearances, two interceptions — despite only two training sessions with the Rowdies. The humidity got him though, as he was replaced in the 84th minute.

It is possible to hold down the Red Bulls II. Back in April they played last-place Toronto, which has conceded a league-high 46 goals, to a surprising 0-0 draw. Pittsburgh and Ottawa, the team Tampa Bay hung a handful on, both posted June shutouts of the Red Bulls.

And New York has yet to secure a road triumph this season.

"We pretty much know what they have to offer," Flemmings said. "I know it's going to be a good game."


Rowdies vs. New York Red Bulls II, 7:30, Al Lang Stadium

TV/radio: This TV Tampa Bay (Ch. 630); 1250-AM