Tampa Bay Rowdies forward Juan Tejada has one more match to look forward to after the USL Championsip final against Phoenix Rising FC at Al Lang this Sunday.
The young striker has been named to Panama’s squad ahead of the country’s exhibition match against Japan on November 13 that will take place in Austria. While he represented and scored for his country at the U23 level during Olympic Qualifying last year, Tejada has yet to make an appearance for the senior team.
“It follows on from the message that we’ve been trying to send all season,” Rowdies head coach and technical director Neill Collins said. “If the team’s successful, individuals start to benefit. Playing for your country is one of the greatest honors.”
Accoridng to Collins, Panama had called Tejada in earlier this month for friendlies, but the Rowdies were fortunately able to hold on to the attacker for this crucial stage of the USL Championship season. At that point in early October, Tejada was just getting back to playing after missing a few weeks with an ankle injury, so both sides agreed it wasn’t the best time for the young striker to be travelling abroad for a couple friendlies.
Tejada made his return to the field in the regular season finale and Collins has included him the starting lineup for every postseason match since.
“You can see his impact on the field,” Collins noted. “I’ve always felt that with Juan, when he’s on the field he gives everyone a lift with his energy but also his quality. I thought it was probably his best performance on Saturday evening in terms of holding the ball up, so I think that callup was a well deserved boost for him. It’s been a start-stop season for him. This is great that he gets to play for his country and gets to showcase his talents, showcase the Rowdies as well. I think it’s just the start of bigger things for Juan.”
In 46 appearances for the Rowdies over the last two years, Tejada has recoreded 12 goals and two assists. Both of those assists have come this year, but he’s also only found the back of the net twice in 2020. It’s tough to be too critical of his dip in production when you consider the shorter season the Rowdies have played and the fact that Tejada missed about a month of that because of his injury. Additionally, Tejada’s been strong in just about every other facet of his game. It could just be that the chances haven’t fallen his way yet.
“It’s not something I’m overly concerned about,” Collins said. “I suspect over 35, 36 games next year you will see Juan getting more opportunities. It’s kind of one of those unusual things but certainly not something to dismiss. When you look at the last two games particularly, chances are always gonna be at a premium against teams like Charleston and Louisville. It happens that Seba is getting in on those little chances. It could’ve been Juan (in Louisville). He was sniffing around before Seba poked it in. I think Juan’s not far away from a goal or two. I really do. I think it’s just part of his development and learning how to link all these things together.”
Photo via Samantha Ponzillo Media