DISCLAIMER: If you were watching along last night you already know that the broadcast went dark for about 20 minutes. I hate writing a recap without a full picture of the match but there is no way I wasn’t going to write about such a convincing Rowdies win, you know? Although, for all we know those 20 minutes may have been a disaster (doubtful). That would explain Scorpions Coach Alen Marcina’s assertion that his team outclassed the Rowdies. Anyway, let’s hope this is the last broadcast related disclaimer we need this year.
The new regime for the Tamp Bay Rowdies got off to a flying start with a 3-1 win on the road against the 2014 champion San Antonio Scorpions.
Starting off the season with three goals should by no means be discounted – especially after how rarely the Rowdies scored multiple goals in 2014 – but this game was won by the revamped back line.
Across the board it was a stellar performance from the defenders. The recovery speed of full backs Darnell King and rookie Zac Portillos nullified the dangerous Scorpions counter attack. Center backs Tamika Mkandawire and Stefan Antonijevic showed poise throughout the match and deftly dealt with any advances into the Rowdies box.
Antonijevic in particular had a man of the match worthy performance. It was his header off of a beautiful corner kick from Georgi Hristov in the 10th minute that got the Rowdies 2015 scoring campaign off and running. Along with his goal, Antonijevic was an imposing force in the Rowdies box, making a crucial goal line clearance when Kamil Contofalsky was caught off his line and blocking another clear shot on goal in the 58th minute.
Really the defensive organization and tenacity from the entire team was impressive all match. Newly minted captain Marcelo Saragosa performed his role in the midfield more than adequately. If any fan needed to be convinced of his worthiness as captain it’s hard to imagine them not being swayed by his performance. Without question he took charge of the field, vocalizing exactly what he wanted from all his teammates.
The only down note defensively on the night was the loss of focus on the lone Scorpions goal in stoppage time. Midfielder Rafael Castillo took a shot from distance that Contofalsky deflected but rebounded off the post directly into the path of a wide open Omar Cummings. It’s disheartening to see a breakdown like that after a quality effort – especially after all the late goals the club gave away in 2014 – but it’s an easily fixable error.
It’s difficult to recall a game from 2014 that matched the stustained level of intensity that the team brought to the field last night. Every single player that took the field for Tampa Bay was challenging for every fifty-fifty ball in their vicinity. The season is still young, so seeing if they can match that level throughout the year will be interesting to watch, but witnessing it right out of the gate has to be encouraging for the fans.
With so many quality options off the bench depth should not be an issue. It was put to the test early last night after midfielder Keith Savage was knocked out with an injury in the 33rd minute. After such a convincing preseason for Savage it’s unfortunate, but there was no apparent drop off when Juan Guerra came on to replace him.
Zak Boggs also had an effective debut off the bench, replacing Robert Hernandez in the 69th minute. The club didn’t have an option with Boggs’ technical ability and creative spark on the bench in last year.
Thomas Rongen gave starts to two rookies and was rewarded for the risk. As mentioned above Portillos was excellent in his debut. 20-year-old forward Darwin Espinal also had a positive night. He didn’t have many chances on goal but he buried the best opportunity he had. Just before halftime Darnell King made a run down the right flank and after initially being denied on his shot attempt laid the ball back to Espinal for the finish and game winning goal.
Complaining about the attack when the team scores three goals seems strange, but possibly the biggest criticism of the performance is that the team did not create nearly enough chances in the final third in the run of play. The third goal came from a bit of brilliant individual skill from Corey Hertzog. In the 61st minute Saragosa got the ball from a bad giveaway and passed to Hertzog, who ripped a shot from 30 yards out to put the game out of reach for the defending champions. Goals from set pieces and individual brilliance count the same as any other goal, but better opposition may be harder to defeat if the Rowdies aren’t creating and capitalizing in the final third.
Tampa Bay won’t have to wait long to see tougher opposition. Last year’s regular season champion Minnesota United is coming to St Petersburg next weekend to help up open up the new and improved Al Lang Stadium. The Loons will be itching to get on the field after sitting out the first week of action with a bye.
IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES