The revamped Tampa Bay Rowdies open up their 2015 campaign on the road in San Antonio. Facing off against last year’s Soccer Bowl champions is a great test for the new Rowdies squad right out of the gate. The Scorpions have kept some core players from last year but also lost two major contributors to free agency and traded another away.
- Talented and versatile attacking midfielder Walter Restrepo is now with the New York Cosmos.
- Greg Janicki, a stalwart for the Scorpions back line the past three seasons left to join Indy Eleven.
- Another pivotal defender Jonathan Borrajo was traded away to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for future considerations.
- Rafael Castillo and Billy Forbes both return to solidify the midfield, which will likely be the area of the field where the Scorpions are strongest. Castillo was the leading scorer for the team in 2014 with seven goals, earned a spot on the NASL Best XI, and won MVP honors for last year’s Soccer Bowl. Forbes had five goals of his own, including the game winner in the Soccer Bowl and was a league leader in assists with seven.
Key Pick Ups
- The Scorpions are hoping to match the success of last year’s loan for goalkeeper Josh Saunders with the loan of 21-year-old goalkeeper Jon Kempin from Sporting Kansas City. The ceiling for Kempin is high. He has featured for the US team at multiple levels of the youth system. The youngster may start right away considering how little playing time NASL veteran keeper Daryl Sattler has gotten the past two seasons.
- Longtime MLS forward Omar Cummings joined the team just last week. At one point he was considered one of the best goal scorers in MLS but his production has dropped off considerably due to injuries. He’ll be looking to get back on track in San Antonio but might not feature at this point after joining camp so late into the game.
- Zourab Tsiskaridze will likely be a central figure in the Scorpions’ midfield in 2015. At 6.1′ he’s more than capable of playing a physical game. Head Coach Alen Marcina will be looking to him to act as the holding midfielder.
- Canadian international Nana Attakora will be asked to fill a huge hole on the back line. After losing Janicki the club is in desperate need of experience and leadership in central defense.
Match Outlook & Strategy
Some hesitancy as a new coach starting out on the road against the defending champs is understandable. However, this match is a perfect opportunity to employ the aggressive attack that Thomas Rongen has promised. San Antonio is unquestionably most vulnerable on the back line.
Two days out from the match and the defending champions only have five outright defenders listed on the roster. Unlike the Rowdies who played eleven matches during the preseason, San Antonio’s defense has only had three competitive matches to gel as a unit. The Rowdies found success in the preseason by putting constant pressure on defenders to force turnovers and they could benefit from doing the same from the outset on Saturday.
The Scorpions’ own coach has even expressed concern with his team’s ability to defend the counter attack. In their final preseason match the Rowdies showed great potential to produce on the counter and even capitalized on one of those opportunities. Look for Rongen to possibly exploit this weakness as the game wears on.
The match won’t be a cake walk for the totally revamped Rowdies defense though. Last year the Scorpions were one of the most potent counter attacking teams in the league themselves. Their midfield possessed lethal pace that helped them score consistently, including in that 7-0 win over the Rowdies that we all wish we could forget. That speed is still present on roster for the new season.
The good news is that the overhauled Rowdies back line comes with a massive upgrade in speed to squash any possible counter attacks. Veteran Tamika Mkandawire will likely be the anchor of the back four and will need support from captain Marcelo Saragosa in the midfield. Don’t be surprised to see another defensively inclined midfielder – like Keith savage – to line up next to Saragosa to ensure that the team can keep the Scorpion’s pace in check.
The Rowdies have an excellent test to kick things off in 2015, an opponent that must be taken seriously that has serious vulnerabilities to exploit. Getting a result in the match is certainly within reach and could be just what Tampa Bay needs to start the Spring season. Things don’t get any easier with match ups against Minnesota United and the New York Cosmos in the following weeks.
IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES