Sunday’s USL Championship Final will the be the last match the Tampa Bay Rowdies prepare for for quite a while. Knowing that fact, Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins expects his players to be eager to put everything they have into the preparations.
The trick is maintaining the intensity that got you this far while not risking losing a player to an avoidable injury in training. Collins noted a handful of players, such as captain Sebastian Guenzatti, don’t need to go all out at this point because they’ve played so many minutes this year. The focus instead is on ensuring on the little details and getting players in the right mindset for Sunday.
“For me, in my experience as a player, generally it wasn’t so much about physical demands, it was more about the psychological demands,” Collins explained. “We’re all human at the end of the day and we put a lot of anxiety and nervous energy into the buildup to these games, so you want to get them feeling good psychologically as well.”
The Rowdies have shown a strong mentality this postseason, but penalties are an area where they’ve yet to be tested. That’s a good thing. You never want to put yourself in the position of your season coming down to penalties. That’s what Phoenix Rising FC has had to endure the last two weeks. In fact, the club’s first round match against Sacramento before that was only six minutes away from penalties as well until Solomon Asante nabbed an extra-time goal.
Collins knows a thing or two about penalties, believe it or not. Whenever the subject comes up the former center back is quick to mention he ended his time at Sheffield United as the club’s all-time leading scorer in penalty shootouts.
“A lot of it is down to technique but then also mentality, being able to handle the moment and sticking to certain principles,” Collins said. “It’s funny, I took a lot of penalties and a lot of it’s down to, as my dad used to tell me, the principles of taking your time and spotting the ball. Just basic things.”
The last championship final the Rowdies played in ended in penalties. Clearwarter native Jeff Attinella established himself as a Rowdies legend that night by stopping three penalties to claim the title. While that finsih was about as thrilling as sports can be, the Rowdies and their supporters would obviously love to avoid Sunday’s match reaching that point.
Collins told the media this week the Rowdies won’t be placing an extra emphasis on practicing penalties ahead of Sunday’s championship final. The focus, as always, is on finishing on top after 90 minutes, or after extra time if its needed. Throughout the postseason Collins has maintained his confidence in how the Rowdies have prepared all year and believes that changing too much at this stage would be a sign of insecurity.
“We’ll be as prepared as anyone possible can be,” he said. “I’ve known teams that have practiced umpteenth times and have been knocked out. They might’ve felt that they’ve covered all their bases. I’ve got confidence in the guys. We’ve had a couple penalty practices through the year and they’ve been good. They beat the staff in one prior to a game. It was a low point for a couple of our staff members when the players won that. If they can beat the staff they can beat anyone.”
You could view the fact that Phoenix has just played two high-stakes rounds of penalties two ways. Phoenix might have the edge after already dealing with the pressure, or maybe Rowdies keeper Evan Louro benefits from having more socuting material to look over. Phoenix took 9 total penalties in their recent victories, with Joseph Farrell and Corey Whelan being the only players to take one in each match.
Collins has a lot of faith in Louro and goalkeeping coach Stuart Dobson to be prepared for penalties if need be.
“A guy like Stuart Dobson spends countless hours scouting all these types of things,” Collins said. “That’s the coach’s job, to have all that information and decide how to use it, what to give the players. Evan will be as well prepared as anyone for those instances. If someone’s taken 10 penalties and put them all to the right, I mean that’s pretty valuable information. If someone’s taken one and they’ve put it to the left, do you tell them that? That’s something I trust Stuart with and trust Evan with as well. You look at the player’s history, I think we do a good job researching all of this stuff. I suppose you earn your corn deciding on what’s important to give the players and what’s not.”
Photo via Samantha Ponzillo Media