by JAKE NUTTING
Anyone else dream about this shake and bake move from Malik Johnson last night?
Watch this video on Streamable.
It’s hard to really complain with two wins to open up group play in the first month of the restart. The Rowdies lead the pack in Group H after dispatcing second-place Charleston 2-0 last night at Al Lang, sitting on 11 points from 5 total matches.
The Rowdies only have just 11 matches left to play in this condenses USL Championship season, meaning we’re already a quarter of the way through the schedule. In a normal season, a 5-point lead at this point lead with wins over the two teams directly below you in the standings would be a slightly comfortable position.
But we all know this is not a normal year.
The Rowdies face 7 straight group matches in the next 5 weeks. Things could look drastically different at the end of that stretch. They’ll battle Atlanta and Charleston three more times each before the year is done. And while last place Miami FC has gotten off to rocky start with two two loses so far, they would love to turn that around in their first of four matches against the Rowdies next Friday in south Florida.
“I think we’re all trying to adjust to things outside of sports. But it’s the same in sports as well. This is all so different…As long as they keep coming in to work as they are with an attitude to learn. We’re gonna keep getting better and hopefully along the way we can pick up results.” — Neill Collins
Leaders on the Back Line
Things were looking dicey for a bit during the second half as Charleston gained a foothold and earn more and more chances. Collins himself even said the Rowdies probably didn’t deserve the clean sheet. Luckily, the visitors only placed one of their 11 shots on target.
One of the few benefits of having an almost empty Al Lang is how much the chatter on the field stands out. Keeper Evan Louro and Forrest Lasso have stood out as the most vocal Rowdies players in these first three home matches. Lasso especially was outspoken on Friday, pushing his team not to let another lead slip away.
Lasso imploring the team to stay focused. (Lightly paraphrased)
That kind of demanding nature is exactly what the Rowdies wanted out of Lasso and Louro when they brought them in the offseason.
“I felt that we needed a couple more guys that needed that mentality or that bravado, whatever you like to call it. Forrest has got that,” Collins said. “He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate. If he’s talking, you want to do well for him. He’s very motivating to be around. Evan Louro, he’s another big, strong personality that wants to win. It’s great as a fan to get that insight and to hear how much these guys talk and communicate.”
Lasso was an imposing force inside the Rowdies box all night, leading the team with 9 clearances and deftly heading away a number of deliveries into the area. The Charleston win is the first Rowdies clean sheet since the season opener in New York, though it’s also might be the most chances they’ve given up in any match this year.
“I believe as a spine of a team when you look at Evan and Forrest I think it’s important you’ve got reliability and certain types of characters. I think we’ve got that. They’ve been around the league for three or four years but they’re still young for the position that they’re in. I’m hoping we can continue to improve them as players individually and in the system. As I say, we’re not just looking at this year but for years to come.”
No Sophomore Slump For Doherty
Guenzatti and Johnson deserve all the plaudits for their outstanding goals. However, midfielder Jordan Doherty deserves some love as well for the pass that opened up space for Guenzatti to create the opening goal.
After nearly a whole half filled with fouls and stoppages, the Rowdies needed a moment of clear vision and skill to bust things open. Doherty did just that from the midway line with a perfectly-weighted pass into space for Guenzatti to run on to.
Watch this video on Streamable.
Doherty was making his third straight start of the year. It’s easy to forget he’s still only 19 as he looks completely comfortable operating in midfield in his second season with the Rowdies. The youngster is second on the team in passing accuracy with a completion rate of 89 percent. Only Sebastian Dalgaard has a better completion rate, but Doherty has attempted nearly three times as many passes.
Collins noted after the match that he would bet the Rowdies have an impressive record with Doherty in the lineup. He wasn’t wrong. In 18 starts (including one U.S. Open Cup match), Doherty has helped the Rowdies post 8 wins, 7 draws and two losses.
“What a great young man. Comes over here from the UK as an 18 year old on loan and just rises to every challenge. There were games last year where he played, three or four tough away games that he played in and we had great results. Sometimes I left him out on the back of those because we had different personnel. This year he’s come back and you can see he’s really finding his feet and his confidence has grown. And he’s still only 19 years old. These are the guys that we want at the Rowdies, guys that you can build the team around.”
A Month of Social Distancing in the Books
Friday was the third and final home match of the month for the Rowdies. The club seems to have pulled off hosting a small number of supporters (around 140-150) while maintaining social distancing protocols and guidelines. At the start of the month the Rowdies expressed their hope of being able to host up to 1200 fans starting in August. There’s no word on if they still plan on pursuing increased capacity for the their two home matches in August. They still have about two weeks to figure that out. But even if they don’t end up opening the venue up to more fans, the small group of supporters who showed up to Al Lang in July proved they can make a difference.
These fans Mehn!! 🔰Thank you for your amazing support. You guys won the game for us before kick off!! #together we say #COYR 🔊 @TampaBayRowdies pic.twitter.com/MBBZwwAVPG