photo credit: Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Tampa Bay Rowdies are riding high following last week’s season-and-home-opening 3-0 win over the Charlotte Independence, but will face a tougher test this Saturday at Al Lang Stadium when the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, another Atlantic Division rival, comes to St. Petersburg.

It will be the first game of the season for Pittsburgh, who have several new players on their roster, making them a difficult opponent to gameplan for. Rowdies head coach Neill Collins will be looking to glean any information he can from his past matchups with Pittsburgh’s legendary coach, Bob Lilley, as well as from one of the recent additions to the Green and Gold’s roster: forward Steevan Dos Santos, who notched 44 appearances and 14 goals for Pittsburgh over two seasons before joining the Rowdies in the last offseason.

“This is one of the strongest opponents we’ll face. I think playing them four times is going to be very difficult for both teams, but if you look over the past two or three seasons since Bob’s been in charge, they’ve always been a difficult team to beat, but I think we’ll be equally tough for them” — Neill Collins on this week’s matchup

With so much change in the Riverhounds’ roster, any insights Dos Santos can offer are probably limited to the way their head coach approaches the game. The Cape Verdean has a pretty simple outlook to this weekend’s match:

“Me and Neill have been talking about that – they have a lot of new players this year, but Bob has his way to play, for sure it’s going to be a difficult game for us. We’re just trying to do our best and improve what we’ve been training and trying to take it to the game and have a good game against them.”

Lilley isn’t the only one with a preferred style of play, however. Collins and his team is focused and confident on executing their gameplan, regardless of the opponent.

“Anyone that watches our team over the past couple years knows we have quite a strict set of principles that we always try to stick to, so we’re not going to vary too far from what we always do. We want high energy, we want to dominate the game, but every opponent is different and…any little adjustments, we’ll need to wait til Saturday to see.”

Speaking of the new additions in the Steel City, they may be new to Pittsburgh, but Collins and the Rowdies are quite familiar with a few of them.

“As Steevan mentioned, they have a lot of new players, so how Bob uses them will be interesting because he’s excellent at getting the best out of players. The likes of Russell Cicerone and Alex Dixon are exciting, talented attacking players, but I think the player that’s been very effective for Pittsburgh and Bob has been Kenardo Forbes. Very creative in the midfield and a talented player. Thankfully, we took his most talented player and put him in our team!”

With a couple regular players dealing with injuries or still working themselves into regular season fitness, Collins had the opportunity to give some of his own new players a start and was pleased with what he saw.

Leo Fernandes played 65 minutes in preseason…it was against college opposition…so, Leo wasn’t fit to start. On that basis, we talked a lot about Dayonn Harris on the right and Sebastian Dalgaard on the left, and then again just how Conner Antley had shown up really well and got in a couple of times in the first half with his pace. One thing about Laurence (Wyke), although he’s been a defender in the past, I think you can see on Saturday the number of shots, attempts at goal that he had.”

Looking ahead to this weekend, Dos Santos is determined to treat it like any other game.

“I think I do have to focus like I’m playing any other team. Of course, I’ve been there before – this is not the first time I’m playing against a team I played for before. When I was in Ottawa, I played against Rochester and when I went to Pittsburgh, I played against Ottawa…I just think I have to do my best to help the team. I’m just looking for us to get another three points. That’s the most important and I’m focused on that. Now that we have fans…I just want to focus on getting the three points and making them happy.”

And while he’s still getting used to his new teammates and his new coach’s tactics, there’s one aspect of life in Tampa Bay that Dos Santos has already warmed to…the weather.

“It’s way better than Pittsburgh. Coming from a warm country, here I feel more at home and I’m used to the heat, and we’ve got a nice stadium as well. I always enjoyed playing in Tampa Bay because the stadium is nice and the field is nice. One of the best stadiums in our league, for sure.”

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