League, division competition tightens for the Rowdies
The USL Championship season quarter has hit and the Rowdies are relatively fit. Tampa Bay maintained the league’s best record until Wednesday.
But it gets harder from here. The confined friendly part of the Rowdies’ schedule, which had brought them together at Al Lang Stadium for six of their first eight games, is now over with some tough road tests lined up, starting on Saturday.
Tampa Bay (6-2, 18 points) faces Hartford, a team that sits fourth in the Atlantic Division but only trails the Rowdies in first place in points per game. Hartford (4-1-1, 13 points) has shown a talent for late drama this year.
“They had very good results; they have some really exciting offensive players. We’re going to be challenged on Saturday, ”Rowdies coach Neill Collins said.
His team shared a pair of 1-0 results on the road, which resulted in a vast slowdown in their efforts at Al Lang, where they score better than two goals per game. And although they hosted last weekend, the Rowdies needed a break before getting on the board, too late to fall 2-1 to Pittsburgh.
The result knocked Tampa Bay down four ranks to No.6 in the USL Championship power standings. Pittsburgh jumped one place. And there, at No. 7, is Saturday’s opponent, who plays his matches on the synthetic turf at Dillon Stadium.
“Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition. Pittsburgh was really well organized and made it difficult for us to access dangerous areas on the pitch, ”said midfielder Lewis Hilton. “The longer the match lasted, the more we moved the ball, the more chances we had. And we kind of ran out of time.
There’s a good chance Tampa Bay will have a better start against Hartford – but he’ll need to be sharp on the finish as well. After two road wins to start the year, Hartford lost 1-0 at home to Pittsburgh but drew in stoppage time. Last weekend he was tied 1-1 with Loudoun, and after a stormy delay in the 88th minute, Nicolas Cardona scored in the 96th minute for the win.
And in a 7-0 teardown of the New York Red Bulls 2 three weeks ago, the score was actually only 1-0 before Hartford scored two goals in the first half stoppage. -time. Dynamite creator Danny Barrera has facilitated both and has collected five assists this season. He’s tied for Hartford for the lead with Juan Carlos Obregon Jr. (four each), Preston Tabort Etaka adding three.
Helped by the explosion in New York, Hartford leads the Eastern Conference in goals scored (16) despite only six games. The Rowdies have 14 in eight games and have yet to fully click in all four since forward Steevan Dos Santos (three goals) suffered an injury. Forwards Juan Tejada and Lucky Mkosana have also been out all season, and neither will be on the pitch this weekend.
“There’s no question at this point that our options are limited,” Collins said. “With Juan, Steevan and Lucky all in the same position, it’s very unusual. But we believe in what we do. We think we have more than enough with what we have.
Jordan Adebayo-Smith, the youngest Rowdie at 20, has two goals but the last one came over a month ago. Still, Collins praised his ability to create opportunity with his speed. Dayonn Harris, a second-year UConn player, showcased his talents as he sprinted over the end of a 50-yard pass from Hilton, masterfully dribbling the ball along the goal line before preparing Sebastian Guenzatti for Tampa Bay’s lone goal last weekend.
“Dayonn is a really exciting player. You saw its impact, ”Hilton. “Gives us a little energy, an electric rhythm. I didn’t even watch, I kind of just knew to put it in space and that Dayonn would be all over the place.
Tampa Bay needs a win to reclaim top spot in the overall standings after Birmingham (19) dominated Miami on Wednesday. And the Atlantic Division is much tighter: Charlotte, the only team to beat Hartford, passed Charleston to take second place (15 points), and Pittsburgh was 14 points ahead of its Friday night game against New York.
Hartford also circled this one as a sort of testing ground. The franchise debuted in 2019 and predictably ended near the bottom of the league (although that included a win over visiting Tampa Bay in the Finals). Then they tied Louisville for the best regular season mark in the East last year, only to fade quickly with a first-round playoff loss at home.
Harry Watling, the youngest USL coach at 31, is in his first season at the helm of Hartford.
“Their young coach came along and really left his mark on the team,” said Collins. “It’s a big game on people’s calendars. They want to score against us. But we believe that when we do our best, we give ourselves a good chance of winning. “
at Hartford Athletic, 7 p.m. Saturday
Broadcast: ESPN +