ST. PETERSBURG — After three disjointed performances to start the season, the Rowdies were hoping to finally find a rhythm Saturday night against Birmingham at Al Lang Stadium.
The search is still on.
Using 10 players who were not on last season’s roster and without 2022 USL Championship MVP Leo Fernandes (out for the season with an Achilles injury), the Rowdies again appeared out of sync in a 2-0 loss that dropped their record to 0-2-2.
“When we are conceding the goals the way we are conceding them, we have no chance of winning games, especially against a quality opposition with quality players,” said coach Neill Collins. “We conceded two goals on schoolboy errors on our part.”
Both goals were scored by Neco Brett, the first on a header in the fifth minute of first-half injury time and the second in the 83rd minute on a bullet from the center of the box to the net’s bottom right corner.
The Rowdies struggled offensively, failing to score for the second straight game while scoring only one goal each in the season’s first two games, something new to them after leading the league last year with 73 goals.
One of the Rowdies who came into this season with some of the highest expectations, new forward Cal Jennings, continued to struggle in scoring situations, though his opportunities were often fit into the tight, hard-fought spaces of Birmingham’s defense.
Jennings, however, said he and the team remain optimistic.
“We’re frustrated with how this early season has gone,” he said. “But ... it’s still early season, and we’re still trying to find our identity. What are the 2023 Rowdies going to end up being?
“I think the expectations are still high. We need to start winning and getting results, and I still think we are going to do that. I remain optimistic.”
The Rowdies did do some encouraging things, including winning the possession battle (65.4% to 34.6%) and collecting one more shot than Birmingham (12-11). Tampa Bay, however, had zero shots on target to Birmingham’s seven.
One of the best scoring chances for Jennings came in the 22nd minute, when he rifled a shot from close range but right into the hands of Birmingham’s goalkeeper.
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“We were off (Saturday), yes, and there are multiple reasons for that,” Collins said. “Not excuses but reasons. The people in that locker room are going to change it, from staff to players. As you see, we have a lot of things to solve. We’ve been in tough spots before, and we’ve solved them. We will do the same this time.”
The loss to Birmingham (3-0-1) marks the second straight week the Rowdies have been shut out.
“There are a lot more questions for me right now than answers,” Collins said. “But I feel certain we will find those answers.”