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Unused Substitutes Spring Forward Ratings

There were two prevalent themes for Tampa Bay’s forward group this Spring Season: Chemistry and a lack of urgency in the final third.

It’s no surprise that chemistry was an issue for what was a virtually a group of strangers heading into the preseason. Corey Hertzog and Brian Shriver are the only returning forwards from last year and Shriver has only played in a forward position twice this year in two substitute appearances. Working out the kinks and getting on the same page likely lead to some of the lackluster performances throughout the Spring, such as the matches against New York and Ottawa. The chemistry seemed to improve exponentially, though, while closing out the Spring, with Hertzog and Darwin Espinal’s partnership standing out in particular.

The unwillingness to shoot the ball early and often may be a side effect of the attempt to breed the understanding mentioned above. Sometimes players make one too many passes in the final third when they’re worried about how they’re clicking with their teammates. Putting the ball on net as much as possible to pressure the keeper needs to be priority in the Fall Season. Many of the defenses in the NASL get shaky at the first sign of pressure. The Rowdies can’t afford to let teams off the hook by passing the ball around while looking for the perfect shot and letting defenders and keepers set up. This group of forwards is too talented for that type of strategy.

Before we get to our individual player ratings, here our ratings for the entire forward unit.

Matt Cox: 7.2
Daniel Endonino: 7
Jake Nutting: 7.3
Average: 7.2

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Robert Hernandez

The 21-year-old Venezuelan had to play through a learning curve in the Spring Season. Thomas Rongen showed a lot of confidence in the youngster by playing him in eight matches, including six starts. His lone goal in the 1-0 win over Fort Lauderdale and a stellar showing against Edmonton in the penultimate Spring game stand out as his best performances of the short season.

Hernandez is the fastest player on the pitch for the Rowdies when he suits up, but too often stumbled by dribbling into defenders, delaying a shot too long or sending the attempt way off frame. He managed to finish the Spring strong in the final two matches. His dribble penetration improved dramatically against Edmonton and Atlanta. The speedster made defenders look downright silly on a how few occasions, missing out on a goal of the year tally by inches and drawing the penalty to increase the lead over Atlanta to 3-0.

At only 21, the book on Hernandez is far from finished. The striker has plenty of time to improve in certain areas and grow in confidence as the Fall Season progresses. Also, his speed is an x-factor that makes the Rowdies a potential threat on the counter attack.

Ratings: Matt – 7, Dan – 7.5, Jake – 7.3, Average – 7.3

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Darwin Espinal

Another one of the squad’s youngsters, Darwin Espinal showed some tremendous flashes during the Spring Season. He scored twice; once off an errant block from the keeper and also from a nice bit of creativity and poise in the box in the season opener.

Fitness issues limited Espinal to a substitute role or a 60 minute player as he adjusted to professional life in the first half of the Spring. However, as he gained fitness and started to click better with the players around him, the forward earned a consistent starting spot in the final stretch of matches.

In an incredibly short amount of time as a professional, Espinal has already worked his way in the Honduran national team picture. He spent part of the midsummer break training with the Honduran U-23s ahead of Olympic qualifying in August.

The biggest knock on Espinal, is his decision-making in the final third. Awareness of your teammates’ tendencies and just a general knowledge of how to read the game properly will take time, which is something that the attacker has plenty of at the moment.

Ratings: Matt – 7.5, Dan – 7.5, Jake – 7.3, Average – 7.4

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Corey Hertzog

Corey Hertzog started and finished the Spring Season in great form, but the middle bulk of the 10-game sprint was another story. After blasting a perfectly placed shot from distance into the net against San Antonio, Hertzog unfortunately got lost in the shuffle. His shot accuracy left a lot to be desired and the chemistry just wasn’t present early on between him and the rest of the group

Hertzog returned to form again, surprisingly, in the central forward position of Rongen’s 4-3-3 when Maicon Santos missed the final two matches. He was not credited with an assist, but his hustle and conviction to put a shot on net led directly to Espinal’s goal against Edmonton. The two connected again the following week against Atlanta on terrific sequence that Hertzog somehow finished with his shoulder.

It’s hard to see Hertzog magically becoming a world-class finisher in the Fall Season, the inaccuracy bug has followed him for much of his career for various teams. However, the relentless energy he brings to every match is beneficial in its own way. His drive off the ball to challenge forwards and keepers fits Rongen’s high-pressure system perfectly and caused havoc in the final Spring matches. That kind of pressure is something you’re unlikely to get with Santos or really anyone else at center forward.

Ratings: Matt – 7, Dan – 7, Jake – 6.5, Average – 6.8

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Maicon Santos

On paper Maicon Santos had a fantastic Spring Season. A three-goal tally means he finished tied with Martin Nunez for most goal scored. Closer examination, though, might lead you to believe it was more of an underwhelming run for the Brazilian. Two of his three goals came in the 3-2 victory over Jacksonville and he only appeared in half of the games in the Spring due to both injury and red card suspension.

It would be unfair to leap all of the blame for the lack of productivity in some matches solely on Santos. He’s a target striker that requires at least halfway decent service to be dangerous. his two worst outings were against the New York and Ottawa, which are also two of the worst midfield performances of the year thus far.

Santos does deserve some criticism for failing to connect on several chances with either his head or feet in a few matches. As the most experienced forward on the roster, he needs to be more clinical with his finishing.

It will be interesting to see how Santos is utilized in the Spring. The attack was very successful with him out of the lineup in the final two matches and Rongen has stated many times that he likes to go with the players that are in the best form. The young forwards closed out the Spring in exciting fashion and looked like the most cohesive unit Rongen trotted out in the Spring.

Ratings: Matt – 7.5, Dan – 7, Jake – 6.8, Average – 7.1

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