Did the Defense Improve?

In almost every one of his interviews the new Rowdies Head Coach Thomas Rongen mentions, “the spine of the team,” as being his top priority. For a team that has conceded 50 goals in the combined 2014 season, one can see why.

While the Rowdies retained Tamika Mkandawire, Blake Wagner, and captain Frankie Sanfilippo, the new General Manager Farrukh Quraishi with Coach Rongen added Brad Rusin, Gale Agbossoumonde, Stefan Antonijevic, and Darnell King to their back line. Like many fans throughout the Tampa Bay area, I am excited by what appears to be improvement.

Rusin was selected to the USL second XI, Agbossoumonde has played both abroad and in the US youth system, and was a highly regarded up and comer. In November Antonijevic and King went to the Soccer Bowl with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the same season that King was selected for the NASL best XI. The big question then becomes, do the numbers match up with the hope of a better defense?

I took a look at the statistics and crunched some numbers on the new boys to see what they would say. This undertaking turned out to be a much more difficult task than I originally imagined. For one, there is no data on Rusin’s season down I-4, and Gale has not played any minutes. That leaves the numbers to just King and Antonijevic. With this in mind I decided upon a flat comparison between them and their respective counterparts from the last season. Here was yet another road block, in the last season the Rowdies had 5 different right backs and 6 different left center backs. For brevity, this article will concern itself only with the combined position percentages of accurate passes and tackles.

First, let us look at the right back position. Last season Sanfilippo started, was then switched out for Hunt, who was switched back for Sanfilippo, then back to Hunt, Jordan Gafa, JP Rodrigues, Gafa, and ended with Sanfilippo. Individually, Frankie seems to be the standout on the right, a small reassurance considering he is the only one of the group remaining.

As a group the right backs attempted a combined 354 tackles. They were successful in 199 of them, a success rate of 56%. Darnell King, this years addition, in his best XI run down south attempted a total of 360 tackles and succeeded 193 times, a 54% success rate. There isn’t a great difference here, for defensive statistics it’s a wash.


             Success Rate                                                             Attempted                  Won

Rowdies group  56%



Darnell King      54%




Next up is a look at the left center back spot. Last season the Rowdies started with Yamada, followed by Needham, Frankie, Kyle Clinton, and then midseason signing Tam Mkandawire. A brief look at the numbers tells us that Yamada and Tam were both solid options in this position, with the late Tam providing a sense of order. Tam’s leadership cannot be measured by numbers here, but the Rowdies were smart in holding on to him. For the tackles the Rowdies LCB platoon attempted 464 tackles and made 298 of them for a completion percentage of 64%. New signing Stefan Antonijevic attempted 198 in his prior season and completed 138 of them for a 70% success rate. While Antonijevic has a smaller sample size, he does appear to be consistent in his appearances. With this in mind, it is safe to say that the defensive numbers point to Rowdies improvement, even if marginally.


Success Rate                                                                 Attempted                         Won

Rowdies Group 64%



Antonijevic 70%




Now obviously to improve the performance, having better players is a must, but there is so much more in this complex equation. Defense, especially in soccer, is always a team effort. While Darnell King is bombing forward, the right center back has to shift out wide to cover and allow the holding midfielder to then fill that vacated spot. Basically the system and tactics play a role along with the players ‘soccer IQ’. In my opinion the Rowdies under Ricky Hill were disjointed and showed signs of being both tactically and positionally lost. There didn’t appear to be much of a system in play, and the midfield partnership of Shane Hill and Darel Russell seemed to struggle to find the control necessary to that vital portion of the field.

Thomas Rongen, on the other hand, promises to play a higher tempo game style that is based in the attacking 4-3-3 Dutch “Total Football” style. Fans this season should expect a lot of quick-on-the-ground passing, movement, possession, and a team that is playing out from the defense. This is why the second batch of stats, what inStat called ‘accurate passes’ is included here. These will especially important for the left and right backs in the coming season, as they will likely be deployed more as a wing back where players are bombing forward to create more offensive opportunities. Again, if you look at the right back group, Frankie’s percentage buoyed the rest of the group. Combined the right backs made 1638 attempted and 1310 completed, for 80%. While King’s attempts are significantly lower with 966, he completed 772 making his percentage the same 80%. As for our left center backs, they completed 957 of 1224 or 78% and Antonijevic came in with 623 out of 785 or 79%. He too is almost identical in the passing department.


Accurate pass Completion %                                   Attempts                             Completed

Rowdies RB 80%



Darnell King 80%



Rowdies LCB 78%



Antonijevic 79%





What does this all mean? Did we actually improve? Did we stay the same? I believe we have improved. To me, a back line of Sanfilippo, Antonijevic, Tam, and King is already enticing. Throw in Gale reuniting with the coach who brought the best out of him as a teenager in the US youth system and Brad Rusin,who had 23 appearances and 1890 minutes for an Orlando City team that only conceded 24 goals in 28 games and the defense may be something very exciting to watch. The Rowdies kept the solid foundation of the back four and signed additional quality to keep the machine going and Pickens protected.



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