There’s a saying that goes “Man plans while God laughs.” I don’t know if that holds true for the Soccer Gods, but after tonight…it sure feels like it. Days after announcing the loan of Robert Castellanos to the Rowdies from Nashville SC of MLS, and after impressing the Rowdies final preseason match against South Georgia Tormenta of USL League One, the centerback got his first start for Tampa Bay in tonight’s season-opener at Eastern Conference foe Birmingham Legion FC, played at the new Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.
Unfortunately, the start was to be a short one as Castellanos was injured roughly 15 minutes in, from what appears to be a non-contact injury. During the post-game press conference, Rowdies head coach Neill Collins described the injury as an ankle sprain, but he’ll be checked out by the team when they return to St. Petersburg. The Rowdies and Legion ultimately drew 1-1, but if the result was overshadowed by the early injury, the match itself was often literally overshadowed by the stadium itself, with the game kicking off at 4pm Birmingham time on the first day of Daylight Savings. As a result, large portions of the pitch were difficult to see during the broadcast.
With Castellanos injured, Collins opted to drop Laurence Wyke from the midfield to the backline and bring out Junior Etou to fill the spot left by Wyke. Wyke has experience playing that position from his days with Atlanta United/Atlanta United 2 and filled the role admirably.
“I think Laurence is a really versatile player, as are many of our players. Connor Antley could have went back and played there as well, Jordan Scarlett could have moved in there, but I just felt, even for the two or three minutes that he went in there when Robert was out, he gave us a connected platform to build on the ball and defended very well. He’s played there before for Atlanta United and Atlanta United 2 and I felt he had an excellent game.”Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins
Another position that had a lot of eyes on it was goalkeeper, where CJ Cochran (on loan from the on-hiatus OKC Energy) got the start.
“I thought he brought a real calmness, came for crosses, dealt with those through balls really well on a fast surface. CJ got the nod right now because I felt the experience would be important coming in to a tough away game but him and Raiko (Arozarena) are going to have to battle it out all season, as are all of our players.”Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins
Tampa Bay got on the scoreboard first, when Sebastian Dalgaard received a ball in the box from Yann Ekra, following a tapped pass from Sebastian Guenzatti, and coolly put it past Legion GK Matt Van Oekel at the far post in the 34th minute.
“We won the ball back pretty well, it’s that kind of never say die, never give up attitude. Win the ball back, Seba just fighting for it and all of a sudden doing that dirty work to get us into the box and I thought Seb Dalgaard had an excellent performance today…just showed that if he can get into the box, he can score goals and I’m glad he got his first of the season. He can be really pleased with his performance but I thought it was a really typical Rowdies goal.”Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins
The match was a bit chippy in the first half and that continued into the second, with nearly 30 fouls whistled between both sides and 8 yellow cards shown. Birmingham grew into the match in the second half and levelled in the 86th minute on a scorching strike into the top right corner from Marlon Santos outside the box. Tampa Bay had brought on some of their newest attacking signees in Jake LaCava, Jake Areman and Kyle Greig, all of whom had chances to restore the Rowdies lead that were either saved or just went wide, and despite 5 minutes of added time, the Rowdies had to settle for a point in a result that felt fair to both sides.
The Rowdies return to action next Saturday, March 19th with their home opener against Indy Eleven.