by JEFF HERNDEN
It certainly has been an interesting few weeks for the Rowdies. After four consecutive road losses, owner Bill Edwards and now former Head Coach Stuart Campbell mutually decided to part ways. This led to about 24 hours of wild speculation for Rowdies fans – with names such as Sam Allardyce, John Harkes, John Hackworth, David Moyes, and even Arsene Wenger thrown in to the crazy pot of discussion. Also discussed were current Rowdies players – Joe Cole, Martin Vingaard, and Neill Collins. Collins is easily the most qualified player to take over, holding his UEFA ‘A’ License to go along with his 18-year professional career. And come Friday morning, the club announced that Collins would be hanging up his boots and taking the reins as head coach with only one day of preparation before the Pittsburgh Riverhounds came to town.
By his own admission, Collins did not want to make too many changes too quickly, being “very careful not to overload [the players], but at the same time, make an impact.” The most noticeable of those changes came with three new additions to the starting XI — Alex Morrell and Ivan Magalhães coming in at right wing/forward and center back, respectively, and also Akira Fitzgerald getting his first start in goal. A noticeable omission was midfielder Jack Blake being dropped from the matchday squad. Two tactical changes saw the Rowdies start the match quickly, looking to get on top of Pittsburgh early. Through a short corner between Marcel Schäfer and Alex Morrell, midfielder Lance Rozeboom scored his first goal of the season in the 4th minute. The other change saw the Rowdies seeming to play with Georgi Hristov and Morrell as forwards, while Schäfer played wide to the left and Sebastian Guenzatti floated just underneath the two forwards. Structurally, it seemed to look like a 4-3-3 with an inverted pyramid at the top.
Although Collins’ men did get on the board quickly, the first half was also plagued by defensive mishaps and bad giveaways in the midfield as the team struggled to adjust and break down a staunch Riverhounds defense. Those turnovers resulted in quick counter attacks leading to an unfortunate Max Lachowecki own goal in the 20th minute. Another midfield giveaway, followed by a missed by Magalhães, and a pass through the legs of Hunter Gorskie lead to Pittsburgh’s second in the 30th minute.
What I would have given to have been in the locker room at half time! The second half saw a performance that was much improved, although still sloppy at times. With the Riverhounds protecting a 2-1 lead, the Rowdies held most of the possession (62.5% for the game), outshot Pittsburgh both in total shots (15-8) and shots on target (5-4). Considering Pittsburgh had only allowed 12 shots on target and three goals in their previous eight games, this is encouraging. One of the shots found the back of the net via a Joe Cole free kick and an error from keeper Dan Lynd, knotting the score 60th minute. In the final minutes, both teams produced excellent opportunities to take the lead, if not for arguably “Save of the Week” contenders from both Fitzgerald and Lynd.
Collins’ used all three substitutions in his debut, bringing on Junior Flemmings, Michael Nanchoff, and Jochen Graf. Although each of these substitutions were like-for-like changes, they were calculated and purposeful, aimed at bringing energy in to the game and push for the win. Collins made some bold moves in his first match in charge without rocking the boat too much. Look for the gradual implementation of his tactical plan to develop over the coming weeks. Considering the turmoil of the past week, the squad put in an admirable performance.
Akira Fitzgerald (GK): Season debut for Fitzgerald. Made a couple massive saves in the end, and did well to make the initial save on the first goal, but hesitated on coming out to close the angle and could possibly have come all the way out to collect it. He is typically excellent with his feet, but played a few too many of his long passes out of play. Player rating: 7/10
Zac Portillos (LB): Shaky at the back, committed several turnovers, but at times combined well with Schäfer and Guenzatti getting forward. Player rating: 6/10
Ivan Magalhães (CB): In his first start for the Rowdies, Magalhães had a strong performance, but with room for improvement. He showcased his speed and strength, but often dove in too quickly and missed some key tackles, including one that led to the second goal. Player rating: 7/10
Hunter Gorskie (CB): Gorskie performed relatively well considering his new partnership with Magalhães and often having to cover for Lachowecki. With Collins now on the sideline, he will have to step up his play significantly if he wants to lead that back line. Player rating: 6/10
Max Lachowecki (RB): A night to forget for Lachowecki. Moments after returning to the pitch after having a bloody forehead bandaged, he bungled an admittedly awkward ball in to an own goal. Also had several mistakes throughout. In the final minutes, a poor clearing header went straight to the feet of the Riverhounds and if not for an amazing Fitzgerald save, the Rowdies would have been down 3-2. Player rating: 4/10
Lance Rozeboom (CM): Scored his first goal for the club by putting himself in to the right place at the right time. Unfortunately due to the periods of sloppy play, Rozeboom had his work cut out for him but performed well. He held together the often shaky middle of the park. Player rating: 7/10
Marcel Schäfer (CM): The first half saw Schäfer playing primarily along the left wing, with Guenzatti coming inside. Here he was much improved with his crosses, getting farther up field before putting the ball in to the box. If not for being barely offside, he would have added an assist. The second half saw him return to the center of the park, helping solidify the midfield. Player rating: 7/10
© Joe Cole (CM – Subbed off 71′ – Nanchoff): Especially in the first half, Cole was often in the wars for this one. A disciplined and hardworking Pittsburgh team meant that he had to work for every ball he received and consequently was not at his creative best. Powerful free kick on target in the second half (and the help of a goalkeeping error) found the back of the net to rescue a vital point. Player rating: 7/10
Sebastian Guenzatti (LW): Guenzatti put in a shift in the first half and found himself with quite a few touches. Unfortunately, those touches turned the ball over a few too many times and put the team under pressure. The second half saw him return to the wing where his speed was more effective. Player rating: 6/10
Alex Morrell (RW, Subbed off 61′ Flemmings): Alex Morrell brings energy. His willingness to attack on the dribble causes problems for defenders and puts them on their heels. Earned himself an assist on Rozeboom’s goal and nearly had one of his own if not for the offsides call. Although he can be a defensive liability, he was the most consistent performer. Excellent first 60 minutes of the season. MOTM. Player rating: 8/10
Georgi Hristov(F, Subbed off 76′ – Graf): Worked primarily as the Number 9, playing with his back to goal, Georgi combined well with Morrell but was unable to find any real opportunities for himself. At least another week to wait for the record-breaker. Player rating: 7/10
Junior Flemmings (F, Subbed on 61′ – Morrell): Easily Flemmings’ best performance in a Rowdies shirt. He was energetic, attacked on the dribble, and if not for Lynd’s outstanding save, he would have scored the match winner. Player rating 8/10
Michael Nanchoff (CM, subbed on 71′ – Cole): Made an instant impact upon entering the match, getting to the endline and earning the team a corner. Nanchoff put in a solid shift and performed well as the team pushed for a late winner. Player rating: 7/10
Jochen Graf (F, subbed on 76′ – Georgi): This man is desperate to score. And ironically that (in part) is what is keeping him off the scoresheet. Graf is putting himself in good positions but when his opportunities come, he’s too rushed and is lacking the composure of a consistent goalscorer that she showed in preseason. Player rating: 6/10
Unused Substitutes: Mizell, Mkandawire, Fernandes, Taylor
Photo by Patrick Patterson/Unused Substitutes