The Rowdies were shut out by another Canadian side this week. This time the blow on the road against Edmonton in a 1-0 defeat. Edmonton’s lone goal from Lance Laing in the 64th minute was enough for the victory as the Rowdies impotent attacking form continued on from last week’s 2-0 loss to Ottawa.
Ricky Hill made three changes to the starting lineup for the match. Amani Walker was reinserted up top with Georgi Hristov, while Keith Savage and Blake Wagner started on the right and left wings respectively. Both Savage and Wagner had opportunities to score early, but couldn’t execute. In the 4th minute, Savage appeared to have caught the Eddies keeper, John Smits off guard with a volley from the top of the box, but his effort ended up just over the crossbar. Wagner was gifted a fantastic run on goal in the 26th minute off of an Edmonton turnover but Smits handled Wagner’s shot with a terrific kick save. Unfortunately those were the only Rowdies chances on goal in the first half worth mentioning.
The first half consisted mostly of what has become old faithful for the Rowdies attack. The certainly tried, but unfortunately not so true long ball. The offense always seems at its best when the Rowdies keep the ball on the ground and wait for passing lanes to open up. Edmonton, though is a traditionally well organized defensive team so that style requires patience and composure. The Rowdies didn’t have enough of either for long stretches and seemed content to lob long ball after long ball in the general direction of Walker and Hristov. It can’t possibly the case that Ricky Hill is instructing the players to keep returning to the long ball considering the incredibly poor success rate the club has had with it. The dogged commitment to the long ball is likely due to impatience, but is much more likely a symptom of the general lack of consistent creativity in the midfield this year. A revolving door of wingers have failed to provide dependable inventiveness or vision. Central midfielders Darel Russell and Shane Hill have proven themselves more than capable defensively but haven’t been able to put their forwards in dangerous positions with quality distribution on a regular basis.
It’s hard to be overly critical of the forwards when the effort to get them the ball is so poor. And expecting consistently high quality play in any area of the pitch is unrealistic when the players starting there are constantly being switched up. The lack of chemistry between Hristov and whoever is selected to start up top with him is obvious. On the rare occasion that a long ball is successful, or the midfield connects with a forward through ground play, there is little effort toward playing off the fellow forward. Walker and Hristov hardly, if ever, played off one another and neither did Luciano “Lucho” Olguín in his NASL debut.
Fans have been eagerly awaiting the debut of Olguín since impressing in an exhibition match during the Summer break. The Argentine striker replaced Walker in the 66th minute but also struggled to make Edmonton sweat until late in the match. just before the start of stoppage time, 74th minute substitute Lucky Mkosana did well to create space for himself on the left side of the box and found Olguín right in front of goal. Olguín one timed a shot on goal that Smits just managed to save with his feet.
The shame of it all is that the defensive performance that the Rowdies have been putting in during the Fall season are deserving of much better results. Even in this match the back line put forth an effort worthy of at least a point. Center backs Tamika Mkandawire and JP Rodrigues strengthen their case to be one of the best duos in the NASL every week. Willie Hunt continues to shine at right back as Frankie Sanfilippo remains out with a groin injury.
The goal given up wasn’t the result of a lapse in focus or a tactical breakdown. It was flat out athleticism on the part of Lance Laing. The midfielder had a quick give and go near the midfield line with Neil Hlavaty that set him up perfectly for a foot race with Rodrigues onto goal. Laing had no problem winning that race and clinically finishing off the one on one against Matt Pickens. It’s the sort of execution and exchange Rowdies fans wished they saw the guys in green and gold pull off once in a while. The defense is going to have to stay solid and just hope that the club’s offensive woes turn around if the Rowdies are going to stay alive in the playoff hunt.
The good news is that the next match for Tampa Bay is the perfect opportunity for redemption. It doesn’t get much better than a home match against the Ft Lauderdale Strikers, with a chance to clinch a Coastal Cup for the fifth year in a row. The Strikers are riding high on and off the field after a win against Indy at home and finally finding new ownership. Rowdies fans are certainly delighted to know that Strikers will be around for many years to come as a result of the ownership change. But it sure would be nice if the Rowdies could dampen the mood in South Florida and kickoff a strong playoff rally all in one match.