ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies have spent their last three games desperately searching for a late goal, only to come up empty while being shut out twice.
They are intent on changing that template tonight. Having not recorded a victory in nearly a month, Tampa Bay (2-1-3) welcomes Tulsa FC (3-3) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Al Lang Stadium.
“We’re creating chances, we’re pinning teams in. That kind of respect has been earned over the last couple of years, long before I’ve been here,” said first-year assistant coach Jon Stead, who served as interim head coach last week with Neill Collins overseas finalizing his Union of European Football Associations pro coaching license course. Collins is back tonight.
“We just need to convert more of our chances, try to get ahead in games, that creates a different issue for the opposition,” Stead added. “It’s not as easy to sit in when you’re chasing goals.”
In their last two home games, the Rowdies encountered opponents bent on getting a result, not so much putting on an offensive display. And both times the opposing strategy paid off. On March 26, Hartford did everything it could to waste time, while employing a five-man back line, to come out with a 1-1 draw.
Last Saturday, Miami FC sat back and took advantage of its only true scoring chance in the second half to get a rebound goal and frustrate the Rowdies 1-0.
In both games, Tampa Bay controlled possession, holding the ball 65 percent of the time. But it only led to four shots on target against Hartford, two against Miami. The Rowdies outshot Miami 15-7, but the visitors ended up getting more on frame.
“Hitting the target is a big thing that we need to improve on. This week there’s been a real focus on more urgency, more intensity and trying to add a bit more excitement to the way that we’re playing,” Stead said.
In between home letdowns the Rowdies actually were outplayed. But thanks to some incredible saves by goalkeeper CJ Cochran, they came away from Oakland with a 0-0 draw. Tampa Bay nearly scored twice in stoppage time there. One goal from three matches, after gaining five total in the previous two, is not up to snuff.
“Coach Steady said it perfectly: we weren’t urgent enough (against Miami),” said midfielder Leo Fernandes. “It would help everyone starting on the front foot. This week (in practice) was a great week, a lot of attacking drills.”
Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti, still stuck without a goal this year after posting 22 in 2021, did not start against Miami but should be back in the lineup.
To Tampa Bay’s potential advantage, Tulsa has not been slowing the pace. Its last three games have seen a combined 15 goals, including a 4-3 home defeat to Pittsburgh last weekend. Tulsa’s 11 goals rank fifth in the league, second in the East, but they are also sixth from the bottom in goals allowed (10).
And in last season’s conference quarterfinals, the Rowdies romped past Tulsa 6-2. It was the only meeting between the franchises.
JJ Williams and Rodrigo da Costa have three goals each for Tulsa. The sides come in tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with nine points. Tulsa has no draws, splitting its six matches evenly — including a 1-0 defeat of San Diego, which is the early USL Championship overall leader with 16 points.
Tampa Bay trails East leaders Louisville City by five points, but is not the only title contender off to a slow start. Orange County, which beat the Rowdies at Al Lang for last year’s championship, only has one win in its first four games.