by JAKE NUTTING
A week after suffering a second-half collapse at home to draw with North Carolina FC, the Tampa Bay Rowdies played the opposite role as they came back to draw 1-1 at Birmingham Legion FC.
The Rowdies earned a point in each match, but the perspective from head coach Neill Collins was much more positive after Saturday’s draw.
“Tonight we got the same result in terms of a point but at least I feel we put out a performance close to what we were looking for, he said. “We could’ve easily won that game at the end there. Lewis Hilton has a great shot. Kyle Murphy has a header. I thought we controlled the game well in the second half. From that perspective, there is a lot to build on. The players take a lot of credit with a real willingness to learn and get better, which they have to have. I think we missed an opportunity not winning tonight. We’ve won a lot of good games like this on the road, but we’ll take a point and try to do better at Al Lang on Friday night.”
Murphy Still Waiting for His Moment
Kyle Murphy has yet to shine for the Rowdies this year. He was the leading scorer in the preseason with three tallies and had a promising start in the season opener but was taken off due to an injury a half hour into the match.
Since the restart Murphy has featured as a second half substitute in all three matches, getting about 30 minutes the first two times out and then another 10 last night in Alabama.
The squad’s other three forwards have found their way on to the scoresheet. Guenzatti has netted a goal in the last two matches, Lucky Mkosana notched an important equalizer against Atlanta and Tejada has provided two great assists.
Collins, though, is still confident that Murphy is on the right track and will get into groove as he gets more time on the field with his teammates. Murphy is the only striker on the roster that was not with the Rowdies last year.
“The break didn’t do these guys any good,” Collins noted. “They just didn’t get the opportunity to build these relationships. They will and they’ll come good. Kyle always gets an opportunity. Tonight he came on, he had a chance. Last week he came on and he had a chance. I think that’s the sign of a good striker. I’ve got tough decisions all the time with my strikers.”
Two Sides to the Defense
The Rowdies arguably put in their best defensive showing since the season opener at New York Red Bulls II. Considering Birmingham had tallied five goals in its previous two matches, holding them to just one goal is impressive.
Still, it is hard to ignore just how ugly the goal was that the Rowdies allowed. They were caught completely offguard in the 16th minute as Bruno Lapa played a free kick into the box for an unmarked Alex Crognale, who easily converted the chance.
The hosts got one more opporunity a few minutes later, but Evan Louro handled it well with a kick save to deny Brian Wright. After that the Rowdies completely shut Birmingham off from getting anything else on net, even after Forrest Lasso was taken off at halftime as a precautionary measure after picking a yellow card in the 13th minute and receiving two more warnings from the referee.
It’s frustrating to see the Rowdies work so hard defensively throughout most of their matches only to be undone by momentary lapses like they have the last three weeks.
“I don’t know if we deserved a clean sheet– maybe half a clean sheet. Our performance defensively was pretty sound other than one other opportunity where Evan pulled off a good save,” Collins said. “We will keep clean sheets if we start tidying up on these things. Again, the restart got sprung on us and there’s a million things you want to work on and set pieces is one of them but there’s other areas of the game as well. Maybe we’ll give that a little more time this week. Goals change games but thankfully we didn’t let that affect us too much this week.”
The Road Ahead
Collins didn’t want to say the upcoming Group H games are more important than the three out of group games the Rowdies have already played, but we will.
The next eight games are all against Group H opponents. That’s the kind of stretch that can make a break you in the current format of the USL Championship. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the postseason and the Rowdies have position themselves at the top with 8 points, 2 points ahead of the Charelston Battery and 7 points clear of Atlanta. Miami has yet to earn a point and will finally resume its season this coming Wednedsay.
The Rowdies appear to be set up well for success, but we’ll have to check back in a month to see if they were able to capitalize on their position.
Photo by Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies