By JEFF HERNDEN
On Saturday night the Rowdies attacked their way back in to winning form with an impressive display against the Charleston Battery, the Eastern Conference leaders. Aside from slow starts to both halves, the Rowdies dominated on all areas of the field. Matt Pickens had his usual excellent night in goal, the back four held the Battery to only a couple chances and the front five were energetic, dynamic and creative. If not for a cross bar and two big saves from Battery keeper Alex Tambakis, the score line could easily have been more lopsided.
Head Coach Stuart Campbell lined his men up in the 4-3-3 for the third consecutive match. The biggest difference compared to last week’s draw at Orlando City B, however, was the return of the team’s attacking style. At OCB, midfielder Marcel Schäfer spent much of the game barely in front of the back four. Against the Battery, Schäfer was frequently making runs forward. A major reason the Rowdies were able to remain on offensive footing was the play of holding midfielder Justin Chavez. Chavez’s ability to kill the Battery’s counter attack and to distribute the ball to our offensive players cannot be understated. Similarly, Martin Paterson’s hold up play was excellent, allowing time for our attacking players to press forward.
On the defensive side, the Rowdies back four did a fine job of keeping the high-scoring Battery from creating too many quality chances of their own, especially following the Battery’s excellent shot in the 16th minute, which resulted in Pickens giving the defense an earful for allowing too much shooting space. From there on, the Rowdies defense closed down much more quickly. They kept their shape, tackled well, made interceptions and were able to push the attack forward.
Solid performances from all 11 starters meant Campbell was able to be more selective in his substitutions. Even more welcome I’m sure was the fact that injury did not force any of the substitutions made. With the Rowdies going up 2-0 in the 69th minute off an excellent one-touch turn and second touch strike from Paterson, Campbell called upon new signing Walter Restrepo to make his debut for the Green & Gold – and he did not disappoint. Shortly after coming on the in the 77th minute, he split two defenders on the dribble and set up Joe Cole for a shot. Campbell was then able to make two more late substitutions aimed at taking time off the clock and shoring up the defense protect the clean sheet.
After two impressive attacking performances against Cincinnati and Charleston, it is clear Tampa Bay’s best method for winning matches is to press high, keep numbers forward and utilize the creativity and skill of the attacking five. With the next two matches at home against teams in the bottom half of the conference, the Rowdies should continue this trend and pick up maximum points before heading to St. Louis on August 13.
Manager rating: 7/10 — Overall team rating: 8/10
Matt Pickens (GK): Can’t say enough about Pickens. The man was huge in the first 20 minutes. More important than his early saves, however, was his communication with the back line and sorting them out after a nervous start. Excellent leadership. Player rating: 9/10
Zac Portillos (LB): Portillos is beginning to settle in nicely to the back four. Passing accuracy improved to up over 82 percent. Portillos also worked well on the left side alongside Schäfer and Georgi, getting himself forward in to attacking positions. Contributed defensively with two clearances and four interceptions. Player rating: 7/10
Neill Collins (CB): Another solid performance for Collins. After a nervy start and an earful from Pickens, he settled in nicely and with five clearances and three interceptions. He came up big in a match where we needed him to. Player rating: 7/10
Tamika Mkandawire (CB): Like Collins, had a bit of a shaky start, resulting in a deserved 25th-minute yellow card. Following that, Tam contributed six clearances and five interceptions. With a pass completion rate of nearly 95 percent, he connected well with his teammates, allowing the Rowdies to keep possession and move forward. Player rating: 7/10
Kyle Porter (RB): Winning one tackle, making four clearances and two interceptions, Porter had a solid night. Also provided the excellent long ball for Paterson, leading to Cole’s opening goal. Player rating: 7/10
Justin Chavez (DM): Excellent night in the lone holding midfield position, winning tackles and making clearances. More importantly, he was able to combine well with Schäfer, Cole and Morrell, allowing them to push forward and create chances. Player rating: 7/10
Marcel Schäfer (CM): When Schäfer gets forward, the Rowdies attack clicks. After a disappointing defensive display against OCB, it was nice to see him back to pressing the attack. Four shots, two key passes including the assist to Paterson, three successful crosses, two chances created and a 93 percent passing accuracy nearly won him the man of the match award. Player rating: 8.5/10
© Joe Cole (CM, Subbed off 86′ – Vingaard): With five shots, one goal and a chance created, Cole was nearly at his best. He was creative, got in to attacking positions and moved the ball around well. Midfield partnership with Schäfer is beginning to allow him more freedom to roam and create. Player rating: 8/10
Georgi Hristov (LW): After a couple quiet games for Georgi, he was much more involved in this one. Nearly got on the score sheet, hitting the crossbar after a cross from Morrell. He also created chances for teammates and contributed to the defensive effort with two tackles and four interceptions. Player rating: 8/10
Alex Morrell (RW, Subbed off 89′ – King): Morrell is really beginning to solidify his spot in the starting XI and as one of the team’s most dynamic attacking players. His ability to take on players on the dribble and create nearly got him a goal in this one, but providing the assist for Cole works just as well. Player rating: 8/10
Martin Paterson (F, Subbed off 77′ – Restrepo): Man of the Match performance tonight. Paterson did it all. He was able to run in behind the defense, nearly scored off a cross in the first half and his hold up play was excellent (especially in the lead up to Cole’s goal). His goal came off an exquisite first-touch turn followed by a beautifully placed strike. He’s a striker in top form. Player rating: 9/10
Walter Restrepo (MF, Subbed on 77′ – Paterson): Made an excellent debut for the Rowdies. With his first touches, he showed his attacking quality by splitting two Battery defenders and setting Cole up for a shot. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this. Player rating 8/10
Martin Vingaard (CM, subbed on 84′ – Cole): Late substitute for Cole. Added some fresh defensive cover as they looked to keep the clean sheet. Player rating: NA/10
Darnell King (D, subbed on 89′ – Morrell): Last minute sub wasted some time and looked to sure up the defense for the final minutes. Player rating: NA/10
IMAGE, PATRICK PATTERSON/UNUSED SUBSTITUTES