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Jake LaCava feels perfectly at home with the Rowdies

LaCava, on loan from New York, is also having no issues scoring with his new team, which overall is in a bit of an offensive slump vs. league foes.
Rowdies forward Jake LaCava celebrates a goal against Hartford on March 26. He has had early success with his new team.
Rowdies forward Jake LaCava celebrates a goal against Hartford on March 26. He has had early success with his new team. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Apr. 9

ST. PETERSBURG — For all their returning firepower and the addition of Jake LaCava paying off with three goals in five matches, the Rowdies are off to a slow start offensively. At least in league play.

The six goals in Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup shutout of The Villages SC were nice, as was the flow of the attack. But in games that count toward league standings, Tampa Bay has back-to-back draws, including a scoreless effort last weekend at Oakland. Tonight the Rowdies (2-0-3) meet Miami, which has only one goal since a season-opening 2-0 victory against New York.

Though not a set starter — he came off the bench Tuesday and might do so again against Miami — LaCava has not had any issues scoring. LaCava, on loan from New York, tallied goals in three consecutive matches before the Oakland trip. On Tuesday, he converted minutes after coming off the bench.

Still, he’d be fine with ceding some goals to captain Sebastian Guenzatti or Steevan Dos Santos, who have combined for just one goal after a year in which Guenzatti had 22 and Dos Santos 12.

“I feel like I work really well with all the guys on the team,” said LaCava. “It’s amazing, working with players like Steevan, Seba, Leo (Fernandes), pretty much everybody up there. It just makes it so easy whatever decision you make. Whether I choose to keep (the ball) and be a little bit greedy in the moment or choose to pass it off.”

The 21-year-old is already halfway toward his career high. He had six goals for Red Bulls II last season, one more than his 2020 output.

While New York plays at a perfectly fine 5,000-seat facility on the campus of Montclair State in New Jersey, LaCava did not get to experience many home crowds like the ones at Al Lang Stadium.

“Playing against (the Rowdies), I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, what an environment;’ they made it hard for visiting teams to come and play here,” he said. “So now being a Rowdie, having the fan support behind me, it’s amazing. The stadium is unbelievable, the location is unbelievable, interacting with the fans, the crowd, getting to know them, it’s something I really didn’t have at Red Bulls. It’s nice to experience, and I’m loving it so far.”

The appeal of Al Lang for the Rowdies’ quality of play was evident coming off the trip west. While Oakland’s slick artificial surface was not the sole reason for Tampa Bay’s lack of attack, it contributed. The ball skipped more than normal, making it hard to determine the weight of a pass.

“There’s a difference between an excuse and a fact. And the facts were, we had a six-hour flight, change in time zones, poor field, poor environment,” coach Neill Collins said. “We never got any second balls. In possession, where I’ll give the players a little bit of leeway, is the major trepidation on that field to really go and play.

“It’s not a performance that I hope to see anytime soon, and the response on Tuesday was very, very good.”

The Rowdies on Friday learned their next draw in the Open Cup: a trip to MLS’s Orlando City on April 20.

But before that they have consecutive USL Championship home contests against Miami and Tulsa. Miami, which has traveled once in four matches, is 1-2-1.

Miami has a new coach, Anthony Pulis. The Rowdies have an interim one for this game. After training Friday, Collins departed for Scotland to continue his UEFA Pro License coaching course, something he started during the pandemic but had participated in only virtually until now. Assistant Jon Stead will serve as acting coach.

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