by JAKE NUTTING
- Saturday, May 14, 7:30 p.m. ET at Al Lang Stadium
- TV/Streaming: Bright House Sports Network, ESPN3
- Referee: Caleb Mendez
- Ralph’s Mob is collecting over the counter medications to send to Dominican Republic through Team Tampa Bay Missions at Saturday’s tailgate. Click here for a full list of suitable donations.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies come out of their Spring Season bye week with some major buzz after the signing of English star Joe Cole. The midfielder could very well suit up for the Rowdies Saturday when the team hosts NASL expansion side Rayo OKC. He’s stated numerous times that is his hopes and head coach Stuart Campbell has echoed that same sentiment.
Heading into their final five games of the spring, the Rowdies are carrying no serious injuries. The full roster was out on the field and participated in the team’s training session on Friday. They sit sixth on the spring table but are only four points off the New York Cosmos and Carolina RailHawks at the top of the standings.
Scouting Rayo OKC
Rayo OKC poses an interesting challenge for the Rowdies. The league’s newcomers have two wins under their belt through five matches, both of which have come on the road. It merits mention, though, that both of those road wins were narrow results that came at Jacksonville and Miami, the two teams at the bottom of the league standings.
Former FC Dallas player Michel has been the standout player for Rayo OKC so far. After starting the season in a defensive position, the Brazilian has shifted to the midfield and now leads the team with three goals. He also picked up his first assist of the year on the winner at Jacksonville last week. The 34-year-old is a serious threat that the Rowdies need to keep an eye on all night.
Former U.S. national team forward Robbie Findley seems to be slowly building confidence after bagging a goal in each of Rayo OKC’s wins. Familiar NASL foe, Billy Forbes is also inching closer to the excellent form he had in the midfield of the San Antonio Scorpions the last two years.
And then there’s Georgios Samaras. The Greek international hasn’t been fit enough to play a full match, but his past quality means he can’t be ignored, no matter how few minutes he gets.
What to Watch For
Possible Changes: The obvious change is the possible insertion of Joe Cole. He’ll likely be unable to play the full 90 minutes after only arriving on Tuesday, but a start is still possible. Giving him a full half or 60 minutes of action would seem to be a good way to get him settled. Slotting him next to Juan Guerra as one of the two holding midfielders and either moving Michael Nanchoff to or starting Georgi Hristov at the number 10 role sounds like the most logical way of integrating Cole given Campbell’s past lineups. Campbell gave Nanchoff and Hristov each one half at the number 10 role in the team’s last match before the bye week.
Up Top: It’s been a rough start to the season for forward Tommy Heinemann. Much of that is to do with the lack of quality service he’s been receiving up top, but his finishing on the few chances he’s had has underwhelmed as well. After Heinemann’s poorest outing of the season against Fort Lauderdale, is it already time give Danny Mwanga a starting nod? It might sound premature given that Cole should hopefully open things up for whomever is playing up top.
Set Pieces: With the addition of Cole, the Rowdies could have a new person to handle corners and free kicks. Hristov and Nanchoff have been the most frequent set piece takers so far, but it doesn’t seem likely that both will be on the field if Cole plays. Cole commonly took pieces this past season with Coventry City, notching one goal from a brilliant strike and three assists from dead ball opportunities.