by JEFF HERNDEN
Coming in to this one, the Rowdies had two points to prove: that the result at NYRB II was a fluke, and that the team is still a legitimate contender not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the USL. Playing against the reigning USL regular season champions and currently undefeated Real Monarchs of the Western Conference, they had their opportunity to do just that.
First and foremost, the Rowdies began this one with a classy display of support and camaraderie, wearing matching #5 shirts for their injured team mate David Najem, who went down with an ACL injury at NYRB II. With the injury, Head Coach Stuart Campbell turned to Clearwater native Kyle Curinga as his starting right back. Campbell also made two tactical changes, bringing in Lance Rozeboom and Michael Nanchoff for Jack Blake and Junior Flemmings, respectively. With these changes, it’s clear that Campbell’s intention was to solidify the midfield.
The first 39 minutes of this one was an evenly matched affair with both sides working hard to dominate the midfield. Tampa Bay remained organized defensively and finally broke the deadlock in the 40th minute when Joe Cole capitalized on a defensive error by Monarchs center back Michael Gallagher before rounding the goal keeper and calmly finishing in to an empty net.
The second half of the attack was much of the same for both sides, with few opportunities coming until another moment of brilliance from Cole as he turned the defense on the dribble before playing an perfectly weighted pass ahead of Georgi Hristov, who deftly finished for his record-tying 57th goal as a member of the Rowdies. The final 20 minutes saw the Monarchs press forward, but the Rowdies were able to absorb the pressure and counter-attack with substitute forward Jochen Graf finding scoring chances and killing off the final moments.
Aside from a vintage display from Cole and Georgi tying the scoring record, the story of this match was the defense. Center back Hunter Gorskie made an early block to help keep the match scoreless. Anchored by Neill Collins, the whole back line was excellent in limiting the Monarchs to few chances. However, the most impressive display came from Rozeboom in the holding midfield role. Sitting in front of the back four — and just behind Cole and Marcel Schäfer — Rozeboom controlled much of the flow with his excellent positional play, tackling, and interceptions.
Campbell’s game plan for this match up was excellent. The inclusion of Curinga, Rozeboom, and Nanchoff provided more defensive stability against an excellent attacking side. Bringing in Guenzatti and Graf were expected, but I was surprised to see Georgi come off as the team was up 2-0, and he looked to be fit enough to potentially score the record-breaking goal in front of the home crowd.
The past few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster ride in terms of results and performances, so this was a much needed victory, especially with the upcoming three-match away run.
Cody Mizell (GK): After conceding five tough goals and making only one save in the loss to New York, Mizell looked as confident as he’s been all season and put in a strong display. He nade the necessary saves and kept another clean sheet at home. Player rating: 8/10
Zac Portillos (LB): Quiet night in terms of his normal habit of going forward, but was much improved on the defensive side. Notched 3 tackles, 3 clearances and 2 interceptions. Player rating: 7/10
Neill Collins (CB): An excellent night for Collins. He commanded the back line well, won headers, made clearances and partnered well with Gorskie. While his contributions on the defensive end are always solid, I’m waiting for him to be more of a threat on set pieces and corners. Player rating: 8/10
Hunter Gorskie (CB): Massively important block early on, and it was his interception that led to Cole’s dribble forward and assist to Georgi. Good performance. Player rating: 7/10
Kyle Curinga (RB): Curinga’s Grandma (who was in attendance and made an appearance on the video board at Al Lang) has ample reason to be proud. 5 clearances and 4 interceptions statistically don’t really do justice in showing how well Curinga performed defensively. I wonder if slightly more defensive play is his style, as he seemed hesitant to get to forward, or if that was part of the tactical instruction. I’m sure we will find out soon enough as he will be enjoying a long spell in the starting XI. Player rating: 8/10
Lance Rozeboom (CM): Cole and Hristov stole the headlines, but Rozeboom is the man who made it happen. His excellent holding play allowed Cole to be at his attacking and creative best, while also providing excellent cover for the back line. Sorry Joe, but Rozeboom just beats you out for my Man of the Match in this one. Player rating: 9/10
Marcel Schäfer (CM): With Cole being in excellent form on the night and play sliding more to the right side than has been most of the season, Schäfer had a solid albeit relatively quiet night by his standards. Player rating: 7/10
© Joe Cole (CM): Clearly his best performance of the season. Vintage Joe Cole with a well-taken goal and a brilliant assist, Cole had an all-around excellent performance. Probably most everyone’s man of the match. Player rating: 9/10
Leo Fernandes (LW – Subbed of 69′ – Guenzatti): With most of the play siding to the right in this one, Fernandes did not see much of the ball. With 13 passes attempted, and his only offensive action being two offside calls, this obviously was not Leo’s night. But considering the performances he’s had to start the season, we’ll chalk it up as an off night. Player rating: 6/10
Michael Nanchoff (RW, Subbed off 80′ – Graf): Workman like night for Nanchoff. He was excellent pinching in centrally and contributing on the defensive side of the ball. He did well fitting in within the overall team structure, but didn’t seem to create enough going forward. Player rating: 7/10
Georgi Hristov(F, Subbed off 84′ – Lachowecki): Another home match, another goal for Georgi. He’s now tied for the all-time Rowdies scoring record on 57 goals. I’m going to go with Matt on this one and say Georgi breaks the record with a penalty away in Charleston. A good performance on both sides of the ball, but being 3 offside calls against him isn’t great. He’s got to do better watching the line and getting back after an attack breaks down. Player rating: 8/10
Sebastian Guenzatti (RW, Subbed on 69′ – Fernandes): Another solid 20 minutes as a sub, he was more involved in those minutes than Fernandes was in 70. With the fixture list becoming busier as the season wears on, I’ll expect him to continue to be an important part of the team off the bench. Player rating 7/10
Jochen Graf (F, subbed on 80′ – Nanchoff): Had a few opportunities late and had loads of energy as always, but he really should have slotted in Guenzatti for a potential tap-in in the 90th minute. We all know he wants to score, but he still needs to be aware of teammates in a better position. Prediction: Graf gets his first starts and goals of the season on the road trip. The man is bursting with energy and a hunger to score. He’s going to get his chances, especially with an Open Cup game coming. Player rating: 7/10
Max Lachowecki (D, subbed on 84′ – Georgi): I was a little surprised to see Lachowecki come off the bench as a substitution for Georgi, but it’s excellent that he was able to get his first regular season minutes for the club against his former side. Player rating: NA/10
Unused Substitutes: Fitzgerald, Mkandawire, Blake, Flemmings
Photo by Patrick Paterson/The Unused Substitutes