The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ returned to South Carolina on Friday hoping to set things right after falling 1-0 to the Charleston Battery two weeks ago. Instead they fell by the exact same scoreline, allowing the Battery to pull within three points of them in the Group H standings.
This time around Zeiko Lewis provided the deciding goal for the hosts. If you experienced déjà vu watching Friday’s match, you weren’t alone. The performance also looked too similar to the last matchup with Charleston for Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Neill Collins’ liking.
“They obviously had a plan that’s worked, but I genuinely believe that we’ve got to look at ourselves first because it’s not a good enough performance again, not enough good individual performances. Too many people below par,” Collins said. “Maybe that’s down to Charleston’s setup. Maybe we have to look at doing something different against them. That’s what I’ll look at, because it was a carbon copy of the previous game in many respects. Very, very similar. We’re obviously disappointed with that. We’ll look at everything as we always do. But I still do believe we’ve got to perform.”
The Rowdies were again without strikers Juan Tejada and Lucky Mkosana due to injuries, but midfielder Yann Ekra was also held out Friday as a precautionary measure. Ekra had recorded his first goal of the year in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia Union II. Odds are Ekra will be back for the next match. Tejada could be as well depending on how his recovery goes.
“There’s no doubt about it. We miss Juan and Lucky at the top end of the field and also Yann Ekra who’s been very good,” Collins said. “We missed all three of those players on the field tonight, but I still believe we have more than enough of the A-team here to put on a good performance and cause attacking problems.”
To replace Ekra in the adavanced attacking role of the 3-4-3 Collins made the choice to go with Jordan Doherty. The Irishman has typically played deeper in the midfield, but the Rowdies have been working to improve his abilities going forward this season and hoped tonight would be another positive step in that direction.
“I think Jordan’s been one of our most consistent performers. He’s played obviously deeper, that’s his best position but I felt he’s looked like a real threat going forward at times. He’s drove well with the ball. He’s scored a goal. He looked to score again last week. I think he’s all around been very good. So I thought he could give us something in that position slightly higher. And I thought him and Mustapha Dumbuya have linked up well previously on that right hand side… It didn’t quite work like that. It’s something we’ll learn from.”
Unfortunately Doherty didnt make much of an impact, but neither did anyone else on the field for the Rowdies. Once the hosts settled into a comfortable rhythm in the first half they never really gave up control of the match.
After a listless attacking performance by the team in the first 45, Collins swapped out Mustapha Dumbuya and Zach Steinberger for Malik Johnson and Kyle Murphy. For a short 10-minute window it looked as if the changes might offer the necessary spark as the Rowdies started to move forward with more purpose.
However, a bad giveaway in the 54th minute at midfield by Doherty launched a lethal counter attack for Charleston. Mauro Cichero fed Lewis with a ball in the center of the field and the attacker was given too much space by Forrest Lasso as he penetrated the box, allowing him to pick out a shot into the bottom left corner.
“I actually thought we lost the goal during our best period,” Collins said. “The way we started off the second half was our best period of the game. We lost a really poor goal. When you go down 1-nil to Charleston they’re very good at shutting things down. That was disappointing because we still had plenty of time to go on and get something out of the game.”
The Rowdies never managed to threaten in any real way after going down. It’s one thing to not get any shots on goal, it’s another thing entirely to only take three total shots in a match. The Rowdies just never looked up for the fight on Friday.
“There was a lack of a lot of things,” Collins noted. “There was a lack of urgency in terms of moving the ball, driving with the ball, carryingt the ball. There was a lack of quality in the final third. A lot of poor touches, a lot of losses of possession. I hate to say this but I have to be honest and say other than it being a poor performance, there was a real lack of desire to go and win the game. Not sure why that was, but that’s what it looked like. That seemed to seep into the performance. I know that’s not the case deep down. I know these boys wanted it bad tonight. We didn’t transfer that to the performances.”
A point on Friday would have secured a postseason spot for the Rowdies. They can still lock one up this weekend if Miami FC drops any points against Atlanta United 2 on Saturday.
Of more concern, though, is Charleston moving to three points back of the Rowdies. The Battery have every chance at catching and surpassing the Rowdies for the top spot in Group H. They have a game in hand on the Rowdies and still have one more head-to-head matchup in the season finale to look forward to. That match on October 3 could very well determine who comes out on top in Group H.
The Rowdies return to the field again on Wednesday with a trip to face Atlanta.