The Unused Substitutes caught up with Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Neill Collins ahead of the team’s meeting with second-place New York Red Bulls II to talk about responding to defeat, the value of mentality, and Sebastian Guenzatti’s importance to the squad.

Unused Substitutes: The team looked really confident against St. Louis. They seemed to move the ball really well, had some good counter attacks, it was another good defensive effort and there also seemed to be a lot of confidence and decisiveness in the box. Would you say that was one of the team’s best performances of the year?

Neill Collins: You know, I think that would be fair to say. I feel the last month actually, since we had our defeat and we were not quite our best against Charleston at home, I think since then our performances have been excellent. I thought we were excellent in Bethlehem, excellent against Swope, I thought we actually played really well against Ottawa, a really tough Ottawa team. I thought the ball movement on Saturday, the defense and the attack were all really good. Sometimes when we’ve conceded a single goal some people overlook how good the defense has been as well. Yeah, it was positive. The great thing for me is that there’s still room for improvement. There’s still areas we can get better in and improve. Lots to be pleased with, but also lots to be pleased with as well.

US: So you’re pleased with the way the team has responded to the defeat and a few other games where the performance wasn’t the best?

NC: The defeat I thought we actually played well against North Carolina. I thought we were really unfortunate on the night to not get something out of the game. That happens quite often in football. One thing I’ll always say about this group is that the response has always been fantastic. There have been very few poor performances. Any we have had we’ve learned from as a group. Their mindset and their mentality has just been so good. It’s been really, really enjoyable to work with. They’re growing closer with each other and I think that’s really highlighted by whenever we’ve had injuries or suspension, whoever has had to come in have done a great job and the people around them have done an equally great job. Everyone just seems to slot right in. The mentality of this squad is something that can go unnoticed. People focus on systems and the technical side of things, but the player’s mentality is a big asset.

US: We’re seeing Sebastian Guenzatti’s contributions on the field, but how important has his influence in the locker room and training been to the cause this year?

NC: Seba is someone that I want the Rowdies to be. The fact that he’s playing so well, scoring goals and getting assists, all that’s great stuff and obviously that’s what every team wants. But the way he is as a person, obviously he’s got the captain’s armband, but his work rate has gone under the radar, how hard he works for the team. He’s not like many goalscorers that score many goals and can be selfish. He’s probably the most team-first, work effort type striker I’ve ever seen and because of his ability he still scores goals. So Seba’s been huge for us on and off the field. He sets the standard of what we want from people that play for the Rowdies.

US: Seba has said moving into a full-time striker has been something he wanted the opportunity at for a while. What did you see in him that made you make that change?

NC: Seba should take credit for saying that’s how he saw himself, and I get to take the credit for putting him (laughs). Just last year we had our struggles in front of goal and we had a lot of injuries. Seba just trained so hard I felt he deserved the opportunity. The minute he got that opportunity he showed why he can be a great number nine. It starts with his work rate. The way I want to play, every player on the team has to work hard and he sets that tone. On top of that he’s a great linkup player, he’s great at bringing other players into the game. He’s got a real nose for goal and I think working with Martin Paterson has helped him with that, but I think he’s got to take most of the credit for the way he’s applied himself and grown into that role. When someone on the team plays the way he does up front it’s easy to keep picking them and believing in them. I think he showed me enough last year to believe that if we had Seba starting as our number nine that we’d have a great base to build on.

US: So Lucky Mkosana has made you and your staff look like genuises with the way he’s come in and instantly had a major impact in several games. Has his transition into the team been as seamless as it looks from the outside?

NC: First of all we are geniuses, so it’s good that you’ve noticed that (laughs). No, I felt that one of the biggest things we lacked even though started the season as well as we did, and we did start well, was we did not get enough contributions in tight games off the bench. In games that we were leading, the boys were fantastic coming off the bench and helping us see games out. Players obviously wanted to play more and I understand that. When the opportunity came to bring Lucky in we were just delighted. I’m not surprised he’s hit the ground running because of his personality and he’s also played a lot of games this year for Louisville, so he’s not your typical midseason signing that’s not played. He’s played, so he’s game ready. So no surprises, it’s a match made in heaven for us and for him So yeah, we’re really pleased and we think there’s a lot more to come. It obviously doesn’t do any harm when him and Seba have such a good relationship. That helps a lot. He’s taken to the boys and they’ve all taken to him well. It’s clear he has a lot to contribute and he will continue to help as the season goes on.

US: This past week Juan Tejada started twice for Panama’s U-23’s and also scored a goal in Olympic Qualifying. At this point is it surprising anymore when he continually performs so well?

NC: Of course not. You’ve probably watched enough to see that the surprise factor with Juan is completely gone, but thankfully he’s got the ability and the attitude to sustain the level that he’s set. He’s not a flash in the pan. He’s a serious professional football player that deserves the opportunity that he’s getting. We’ll be delighted to get him back and I hope in the future he goes on to play more games for Panama and certainly a lot more for the Rowdies. We’re pleased with how he’s done so far and like with the rest of the squad there’s only room for improvement.

US: Will Juan be available for this week’s match against New York?

NC: I expect so.

You’re one of only two teams that has shut out New York. What is it going to take to replicate that performance and get a good result this week?

US: All the players will need to be at a high level. The performance last time was excellent. That gave us a great opportunity to go and win the game, so we’re going for the same again. Front to back we’re going to defend well and then we’re going to attack as well because you cannot sit for 90 minutes in your half against the Red Bulls. We’re going to have to play as well as we have all season and I think the boys have risen to the challenge so far. I expect no different this weekend. It’s three points, same as we’ve gone for every weekend this year. No more, no less. Our team has done a good job of taking it one game at a time and this week we’ve prepared no differently.

US: There seems to be a little extra intensity in these matches against New York. Do you enjoy these matchups?

NC: I love it. I absolutely love it. This is what football’s all about; being at the top of the standings playing the second place team, a team that has been good for a number of years. It’s great to be up there challenging with them. We know that there’s still lots to do and a lot left to prove. We’ve not achieved anything yet. These are the matches that we want to a part of and I hope there will be lots more to come. So we’re looking forward to it, but I’ll be honest and say this group looks forward to every game. They put their best foot forward every game.

Photo by Patrick Patterson/Unused Substitutes

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