The Tampa Bay Rowdies (1-2-1, 5 points) suffered their first defeat at the feet of the high-flying Carolina RailHawks (4-0-0, 12 points) on Saturday night. It was a disappointing night for the Rowdies. Lapses in judgement defensively and miscommunication plagued the green-and-gold all night and the league-leading RailHawks had all the capabilities to exploit them.
Here are some of the defensive woes from Saturday’s loss:
Two penalties in two games. Man, the referees have not been our friends lately. Unfortunately, Ben Sweat has no one to blame but himself for the the penalty call from Robert Sibiga on Saturday night.
The Rowdies played a high defensive line throughout the game, which bodes well for attacking fun. However, Tampa Bay’s forward-thinking fullbacks also cause a little bit of concern from time to time. On Saturday night, Ben Sweat found himself in the unfortunate situation.
If fullbacks push ahead of their center backs, it leaves a clear gap for opposing attackers to exploit. This was the gap that Nazbi Albadawi sent an easy ball through in the 84’ minute. Sweat had already pushed forward a step and Neil Collins was giving Albadawi space. Doing so only increases the gap. Tiyi Shipalane cuts inside and attempts to beat Sweat through the crease.
It’s a beautiful play. It really is. Unfortunately for Shipalane, Sweat saw right through it. He stepped back and ran towards goal. What happened next was a little perplexing…
Whether through miscommunication or poor decision making, Sweat slows himself down. Instead of running to the ball and turning it outside, he reaches out his arms to slow Shipalane down. Sweat was probably thinking that goalkeeper Matt Pickens was going to come out and collect the ball. Only…he didn’t.
Instead, Shipalane (one of the NASL’s fastest players) gets around Sweat and gets to the ball. Sweat, already beaten, grabs a hold of Shipalane in an effort to throw him off the scent. Unfortuantely for Sweat and all Rowdies fans, Sibiga saw the whole thing and called a PK.
Darnell King is one of my favorite fullbacks to watch. He is great defensively and he’s always pushing into the attack with Erick Avila. Their combination has been the perfect blend of lethal and exciting. Neill Collins, Tamika Mkandawire and Ben Sweat have been extremely fun to see in the Rowdies backline as well.
Defensively, Saturday night had a couple questionable moments, though. However, the same one happened a couple times and it needs to be addressed before this weekend’s matchup against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Paul Black, one of the NASL’s best fullbacks last season, is great at overlapping his midfielders and continuing the attack [Full Disclosure: I interned for Atlanta Silverbacks FC last year and I’m a HUGE fan of Black. He’s a very talented guy and I would expect him to give anyone in the NASL a difficult matchup]. Austin Da Luz has been one of the best players so far this season. The left side of Carolina’s attack is just plain good. The issue in question involves defensive pressuring against overlapping fullbacks.
In the first nine minutes of the match against the RailHawks, Matt Pickens was forced to make an other-worldly save to ensure Tampa wasn’t forced into an early deficit. All of it could have been avoided, though.
The initial play starts as Albadawi lays off a pass (right through the same kind of gap that Sweat was forced to contend with) between Darnell King and Tamika Mkandawire to Brian Shriver. After doing so, Albadawi makes a B-line for the box, with Juan Guerra in tow…for a bit. Guerra peels off to help Mkandawire take on Albadawi. Darnell King, who has already been bypassed, offers the same help to Mkandawire. At this point, there are three Rowdies defenders facing off against Shriver.
Clearly not in the best of positions, King takes a few steps back to to block an incoming Albadawi. This is when the RailHawks make their move. Austin Da Luz overlaps Shriver, Shriver drops off the ball to him, and Da Luz pops in the perfect cross. Collins and King, confused with the quick passing of the RailHawks lose track of Albadawi, allowing him to get into perfect position on the far post. He connects and heads in right towards the net. Fortunately for those in the stadium, Pickens made the dramatic save.
The problem is this kind of thing happened several times on Saturday night. It’s still early on in the season. Players are still getting used to each other (especially with Collins in the lineup). However, these are issues that need to be addressed quickly as they lead to massive amounts of attempted shots.