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Bench Takes: Together Now More Than Ever

We’re now 9 matches into 2020 and the Tampa Bay Rowdies remain unbeaten. This 9-match unbeaten run is second only to last year’s Rowdies, who avoided a defeat through the first 13 weeks of the season.

This year’s Rowdies could still wind up mathcing or besting that 13-match streak when all is said and done, but you could make a case that they’ve already gotten off to a better start. Through 9 matches in 2019 the Rowdies had earned 17 points with four wins and five draws, meaning they averaged 1.88 points per game. In contrast, Saturday’s 2-1 win over Atlanta United 2 was the sixth win of the year for the Rowdies, who moved to 21 points in the standings and are averaging 2.33 points per game.

The differences between the two squads are slight, but the smallest margins can make a world of difference. Last year at this point the Rowdies had scored 14 goals. This year they have 16. Last year and this year’s squads are even at five clean sheets, though they would have six this year if not for the 90th minute penalty given up to an otherwise ineffective Atlanta attack on Saturday.

A possible explanation for the Rowdies doing a bit better in the opening nine could be the way they’ve closed out matches. Collins has frequently mentioned how satisfied he is with the depth he’s able to call on to change a match in 2020. While they’ve had a few early misteps in the first halves since the restart, they’ve consistently been the better side in the second half and have responded well to adversity. The only obvious exception to this is the North Carolina draw when they gave up a 2-0 lead in the second half. 9 of Tampa Bay’s 16 goals have been registered in the second half, and they’ve also only given up two goals in the back half of matches so far.

Together Now More Than Ever

2020 has been felt like an unending parade of heartbreak and dissapointment in countless ways for so many. The Rowdies family has obviously not been immune to that. Recently, Rowdies supporters Barry Marshall, Kristi Morgan and Dieter Karnstedt passed away. The Rowdies honored all three in a moment of silence right before kickoff on Saturday. Collins even wore a scarf made by Dieter’s wife Mary for his walk onto the field and then draped the scarf in front of the Rowdies’ bench.

Once the final whistle blew, Rowdies players gathered near the stands to pay their respects to Mary. Keeper Evan Louro then gave her one his jerseys and Sebastian Guenzatti have her his captain’s armband.

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Here was the photo I took after the game of the players giving their respect to Mary after the passing of her husband, Dieter. #TogetherRowdies pic.twitter.com/biF0U3j7P9

If you’ve watched a Rowdies broadcast in the last decade, chances are good that you’ve seen Dieter and Mary in their usual seats in the lower bowl at Al Lang. Unused Substitutes cohost Matt Cox told a great story about how he met Dieter back when the team played at George M. Stienbrenner Field on episode 250 of the podcast. In the last week we’ve seen past Rowdies players and even supporters of opposing teams offer their condolences alongside the many within the Rowdies community who knew Dieter.

It’s a sad fact that loss is one of the most effective ways we’re reminded of what we have. At its best, this is a community capabale of providing support in the toughest times. That’s something worth remembering, holding onto, and striving for.

 Murphy’s On the Board

Plenty of supporters had their eyes on Kyle Murphy heading into this season. As the only new striker signed in the offseason, Murphy increased expectations by tallying a goal in each of Tampa Bay’s first three preseason games.

His performance in the leadup to the season was good enough to earn the starting nod from Collins in the season opener back in March, but an injury forced him out of that one after 30 minutes. Through the first month of the preseason Murphy was utilized as an option off the bench. A handful of chances came his way in late moments when he did make it on the field, none of which found their way into the back of the net. The first goal of the year continued to elude Murphy as he got his chance at starting minutes in the first two matches of this month.

Heading into the weekend, Murphy remained the only striker without a goal. Meanwhile, the other three had combined for 8. Collins, though, maintains they had total confidence that Muprhy would get his goal sooner rather than later. That faith was rewarded on Saturday in spectacular fashion.

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On Murphy’s drought to start the year Collins said, “It’s not something we’ve talked about even once in the coach’s room because we knew he’s gonna score. We saw him yesterday in training scoring goals. Yesterday he scored like two or three great goals. So we weren’t panicking. It was just circumstances. He missed a couple chances here or there, as you expect strikers to do. Then tonight he gets his first one and I’m sure he’ll go on and get more. I’m pleased for his sake because I think confidence-wise that takes a bit of the pressure off.”

Ekra and Doherty Keep it Clean in Midfield

An injury kept mifielder Dominic Oduro out of the starting lineup for the first time in a while. Fortunately Yann Ekra looks to be back at full strength, or close to it, and stepped in with a nearly flawless shift. Ekra completed 39 of his 40 passes on the night and was credited with assists on both goals. His partner in the middle of the field Jordan Doherty had a fantastic night as well. Besides the fact that he scored his first career goal with a blast from distance, the 19-year-old completed 93 percent of his 60 pass attempts.

Welcome to the Party, Miami

Don’t look now but maybe, just maybe, Miami FC is ready to join the hunt for one of the two postseason spots up for grabs in Group H. After failing to pick up a point in its first three matches, Miami has picked up 5 points in three matches in a week that concluded with a 2-1 victory against Charlotte Independence.

Yeah, 5 points doesn’t seem like much when the Rowdies are sitting on 21 of their own. Miami, though, has 10 matches remaining to pick up any ground while the Rowdies have just seven. Realistically, Miami is a bigger threat to the Charleston Battery, who sit second in the grup with 14 points and have 8 matches left.

Those matches in hand could end up hurting Miami more than they help. Miami faces 8 matches in the month of September. I don’t care who you are, virtually every team at this level will struggle with that amount of games in such a short span. And it’s not as if they’ve had an easy August. They have a big test this coming Wednesday with a trip to Charleston for their fourth match in 10 days.

Photo by Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

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