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Bench Takes: Three Goals and a Shutout On Collins’ Birthday

Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Neill Collins celebrated his 37th birthday on Wednesday and his players ensured the night ended on an appropriately happy note with a 3-0 victory over Miami FC.

Rowdies fans in the stands then made sure to serenade Collins with a Happy Birthday Song as he walked off the field after the final whistle.

“The best present I’ve had all day was the result. Don’t tell my wife that.”

According to Collins, there wasn’t much of a lingering hangover from the loss in Charleston, just a hunger to set things right as soon as possible. That showed across the board against Miami. You’d be hard pressed to pick out a poor performance from any of the Rowdies that played. All the substitutions even had a vital impact off the bench. A couple minutes after entering the match, Kyle Murphy drew the penalty that set up the third goal, but Jordan Doherty had a brilliant run up the right wing that eventually led to Murphy’s opportunity in the box. Juan Tejada, Malik Johnson and Max Lachowecki were also tireless off the bench in keeping Miami under pressure.

“I honestly think I could have picked other guys and I think we would’ve got the same response,” Collins said of the performance. “All the players were itching to play tonight, itching to get out there. It’s actually been quite an easy turnaround. These guys got to this level because they’re self-motivated. So we didn’t have to say much to them tonight.”

Miami Misses its Moment

Group H Standings
1st– Tampa Bay Rowdies, (7W-3D-1L) 24 pts
2nd– Charleston Battery, (6W-2D-2L) 20 pts
3rd:–Atlanta United 2, (2W-3D-7L) 9 pts
4th– Miami FC, (1W-2D-5L) 5 pts

Wednesday’s three points guaranteed that the Rowdies will finish ahead of Atlanta United 2 in Group H regardless of what happens the rest of the way. The result might have also ended Miami’s hopes of playing in the postseason.

Wednesday was Miami’s moment. The Rowdies were vulnerable coming off their first loss a few days before while Miami had a full week to prepare. A win would have put them in a more promising position and given them a confidence boost as they headed into a home match against Charleston this Saturday. Instead, Miami’s postseason chances are now circling the drain. If Miami loses again this weekend and the Rowdies win on Sunday, the Rowdies would clinch a postseason spot as one of the top two teams in the group. Miami still has valuable games in hand on the Rowdies and Charleston, but it’s hard to see the club going on the perfect run or even close to perfect considering their tough schedule. They’ll have to play out their remaining 8 matches in just 30 days.

How the Rowdies Are Scoring

Worried about possibly jinxing his squad, Collins was very hesitant to bring too much attention to this Wednesday’s successful set piece goals, or the couple corner kick goals from trips to Miami and Atlanta a few weeks back. He’s well aware how rare it for the Rowdies to have this kind of conversion rate on corners and free kicks.

They may stand out to Rowdies fans, but set pieces haven’t been the only source of production for the club this year. 6 of their 19 goals this year have come through either a corner kick or free kick, so a healthy chunk but not the bulk. 6 goals in 2020 have been finished by a header, equaling the total from last year’s 32-game regular season. Six goals have been scored with a right-footed strike and seven have been taken with the left foot. 15 of the club’s goals have been scored inside the box. The Rowdies are also averaging a goal every 52 minutes and have put 50 of their 103 total shots on frame.

As securing his team leading fifth goal earlier in the match, Sebastian Guenzatti passed the captain’s armband over to Leo Fernandes as he exited in the 80th. Fernandes then notched his fourth of the year four minutes later with a smooth penalty conversion. The two veterans account for just over half of the club’s goals this year, but seven other Rowdies have scored at least once this year.

Checking In Outside of Group H

An important result happened outside of the Rowdies’ group on Wednesday that could have implications for them in the postseason. IN Group G, North Carolina FC upset Birmingham Legion in a 2-1 result. Birmingham now sits with atop Group G with 21 points, while the Charlotte Independence is right below in second with 15 points. Group H’s winner will face Group G’s runner up in the first round of the postseason and the runner up in Group H will take on the the winner of Group G, so the seeding here all matters. Team records will be the determining factor in deciding home field advantage throughout the rest of the postseason, so any lead the Rowdies can build now in the standings would be beneficial in the long run. Right now they’re out front of everyone in the Eastern Conference with 24 points. However, a host of teams are well within range of catching and surpassing them in the final month.

Who Let the Air Out?

American soccer never fails to entertain in unexpected ways. The first minutes of Wednesday’s match are a perfect example. About a minute or two after the opening whistle, something was amiss as players started complaining that all of the balls for the match were underinflated. This meant several Rowdies staff members had to scramble to collect all the balls along the sidelines and quickly fill them to a suitable level. It was a pretty chaotic few minutes on the sideline that probably went unnoticed on the broadcast.

So how did it happen? Well, the Rowdies are laying the blame at the feet of the referee crew. The crew are the ones who make the final checks to the match balls before kickoff and the Rowdies say all the balls were the proper pressure before the referees got a hold of them.

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Funny story while we wait for the second half. Apparently the referee crew took out 3 psi from all the balls rights before the match. Players immediately noticed all the balls were too flat a minute in. Rowdies staff then had to scramble to refill all the balls.

Photo via Tampa Bay Rowdies

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