It’s probably not the best time for the Rowdies’ second-shortest turnaround of the season. Still quite skimpy on healthy bench options, the Rowdies meet up with Miami on Wednesday night on the campus of Florida International.
With recent knocks suffered by Yann Ekra and Laurence Wyke, combined with pre-existing longer-term maladies for a trio of forwards, Tampa Bay has been down to four field players on the bench.
“Definitely a challenge. This is where you’d like to have more and more fresh bodies,” said coach Neill Collins as his squad was busing down Tuesday afternoon. “It would certainly be handy to have two or three extra guys to just add that support.”
The four days between games became a balancing act of “taking it too easy, and underpreparing” as far as time on the training field, but Collins thinks the squad will be physically ready. Only once this season, which is now just more than two months old, have the Rowdies had fewer than five days between matches.
Per USL Championship guidelines, two days before a game clubs must submit their roster of 23 potential active players. Then an hour before kickoff the eligible 18 are confirmed. As far as field players (non-goalies) are concerned, that means 16 active and generally at least four of the six non-starters see some playing time.
Such was the case May 22 when Tampa Bay faced Miami in a 2-1 victory that concluded a perfect Rowdies stretch of four home dates to begin the season. But it was also the night that saw Steevan Dos Santos, who had provided three goals to that point — including one against Miami — break a bone in his foot on a reckless late challenge by Paco Craig. Dos Santos has not returned.
Since then the Rowdies (8-2, 24 points) have gone 4-2 and done well to maintain their overall league lead. Tampa Bay also has gone from having 24 healthy rostered players to its current 16.
Alongside the injuries, recent loanee Foster Langsdorf was called back to train with Minnesota United FC of the MLS.
While Miami is at full force on the health front, it is also without some key pieces as both Lamar Walker and Devon “Speedy” Williams earned the call from Jamaica for CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying. Both are expected to fill key roles Monday when Jamaica faces Suriname in Orlando.
“Miami (and us) are in a slightly similar situation. So that should level the playing field,” Collins said.
Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti earned the spotlight Friday for his team-leading eighth goal, in his 100th appearance for Tampa Bay, which took care of Charleston 1-0. By that example, Wednesday could provide a spotlight for Leo Fernandes, as it will make him the Rowdies’ latest centurion.
“Anyone that watches us regularly knows just how important Leo is. He’s a real creative influence on our team,” Collins said. “Hopefully he can have as big an impact as Seba did in his 100th.”
Since the first meeting at Al Lang, Miami has just two wins (and two draws) in seven games, both victories coming against Charlotte. That has dropped former FC Tampa Bay head coach Paul Dalglish’s team below the Atlantic Division playoff cutline, albeit with two-thirds of the season remaining.
Tampa Bay holds the division lead by four points over Pittsburgh, with two games in hand. After that, it’s another four points back to third-place Hartford, which comes to St. Petersburg next week. Wednesday provides a true chance for Tampa Bay to establish firm control of the Atlantic.
Though Miami (4-5-2, 14 points) hasn’t gotten the results, it certainly has tried, averaging 18 shots over its past three games after managing no more than eight in its previous three. Friday night Miami drew 1-1 at New York Red Bulls 2 despite a 21-15 shot advantage — 8-2 in terms of shots on target. Two games prior, Miami lost 1-0 at home to Birmingham despite a 20-12 edge in shots, and before that it fell 2-1 at Charleston with the Battery’s lone shots on target finding the back of the net.
Miami enjoys quite the statistical oddity with its 10 goals all coming from 10 different players.
“They’ll be feeling that they’ve been a bit unfortunate not to win a couple more games,” Collins said. “Hopefully we can cause them some problems going the other way (on a counterattack).”