June 2, 2018 By Jake Nutting
Rowdies Hit the Refresh Button
No one has taken advantage of the opportunity offered by the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ coaching shakeup more than Junior Flemmings.
After an underwhelming start to the year, Flemmings has showed the flair most expected from the winger signed in the offseason. Despite not scoring in a positive appearance off the bench in Neill Collins’ first match in charge, Flemmings got the starting nod in Toronto last week and seized the chance to notch two tallies and win a spot on the USL’s Best XI.
“Junior’s really a player I hated playing against. I’m really glad he’s playing for the Rowdies,” Collins said. “When you’ve got players struggling, it’s easy to criticize their performances, but there’s always other factors to think about, whether it be in their personal life or maybe just the role they’ve been asked to play. My aim’s to try and get all of Junior’s strengths out. He did that on Saturday. You could see that in the 93rd minute. He was fit as a fiddle.”
Flemmings feels a bit rejuvenated with Collins now leading the Rowdies and appreciates the Scotsman’s desire to highlight his skills.
“He wants us to go out there and enjoy what we’re doing, and that’s the most important thing,” Flemmings said. “Showcase your talent. That’s why we’re all here. Everyone has their own special individual attributes. He wants us to just express that in the team and we’re off to a good start.”
Flemmings may the most obvious beneficiary to Collins becoming coach, but the general vibe in the club is that everyone has a new chance to earn their place and prove their worth.
“Everyone’s embracing the opportunity so far,” Collins said. “That generally happens at most clubs around the globe when a new manager comes in because they’re fighting for places. It’s a fresh start. After a month or so, after certain trends begin to appear, when you’re not getting as much playing time as you’d like, that’s when it’s my job to still keep them focused and realize that they’re part of it.”
Collins Sees Room for Improvement at Home
After a month to forget away from home, Collins is happy to be back at Al Lang Stadium to kick off a three-match homestand. However, he’s not ready to chalk up three wins for his side just yet, as he believes they’ve yet to reach the standard he’d like to see.
“I was obviously very aware of our great home record when I took the job, but it’s not something that I take for granted,” he said. “We kinda fell into a groove at home that we managed to sustain. I think that people would agree our home form was iffy this year. It wasn’t certainly as consistent as it has been. (This homestand) is an opportunity, nothing more, nothing less. It’s an opportunity to win games, but in this league you look through the fixtures and see that teams do go and win away. This is definitely one of the biggest games on the calendar for teams, alongside Cincinnati. Teams come here and enjoy it. We need to make it as unenjoyable as possible.”
A Good Start on the Road
Collins’ first attempt at rectifying Tampa Bay’s woeful away form was a successful one, though that doesn’t mean the club’s issues have all been resolved. While they did knock off Toronto FC II 4-2, it’ll take a lot more than one win against the Eastern Conference’s last place team to convince anyone the Rowdies are a force to be reckoned with on the road.
“I’d like to think we made some big changes and some small changes in terms of playing on the road,” Collins said. “I’m still loath at this time to give too much away. I think we’ll be more of an unknown quantity for a while on the road. Certainly our results have been the same, but I feel our performances have been similar as well. So that was good. We put in, particularly in the first half, everything I wanted. The boys, from Monday to Saturday, have done everything I’ve asked. If we keep doing that, seven days in football’s nothing. There’s definitely been small changes. There’ll be bigger changes to come over a longer period of time.”
Cole takes Charge for A Day
If you happened to be walking by USF St Pete’s campus in the morning on Memorial Day, you might have caught a sneak peek of the next stage in Rowdies midfielder of Joe Cole’s career. Cole swapped out a training penny for a rain jacket and led his own training session as part of the requirements to acquire his UEFA A coaching license.
With most of last week’s starters just doing recovery, a group of Rowdies players and several training guests from local colleges participated in Cole’s sessions, which partially focused on counter attacks and beating the offside trap. Cole was mic’d up and a club staff member recorded the entire session to send off to UEFA.
Collins, who already holds his UEFA coaching license, was more than happy to offer Cole the chance and took part in the session as a player before moving back to the sideline and wrapping things up himself.
“Joe’s still in the middle of completing his UEFA coaching license. I think it’s important for someone like Joe, who has so much knowledge of the game and so much to offer these young players, to give him the opportunity to gain that,” Collins said. “That’s why we’re recording it for him, to benefit him. Again, the players are going to benefit from an England international with 60 caps rather than me all the time.”
Tam Picks up a Mic
Rowdies supporters got their first look of the year at Tamika Mkandawire last week in Toronto, but the veteran center back has been keeping busy in other ways.
In addition to training as a member of the first team every week, Tam has been wading into the media game as a part-time commentator and analyst. He acted as a guest commentator on the broadcast of Tampa Bay’s home opener but has also offered analysis in the “Rowdies Rundown”, a weekly video series on the team’s YouTube page previewing the upcoming match.
Tam, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Monday, is taking the chance in front of the camera to contemplate what’s next when he hangs up boots.
“It’s something that I enjoy and, yeah, I probably would like to go in that direction. There’s certainly a couple of directions that I’m thinking of, but that’s certainly is a possibility,” he said. “You don’t realize how much goes into the production of the actual final product that the viewer sees. You don’t realize until you’re up there how much work goes on behind the scenes. It’s harder to probably be up there just because it’s live. You can’t do any retakes. The pressure is on.”
For the time being, though, Tam is still focused on his primary role as a player. With Collins moving the sideline, the Rowdies are short another defender after injuries have already knocked out a few on the back line. Now that he has his first minutes of the season under his belt, Tam is only 11 appearances away from reaching 100 appearances for the Green and Gold. He’ll have plenty of chances to reach the milestone with over half the season left to go.
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