Know Your Enemy: Tampa Bay

Photo by Brian Blanco/Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Hounds host third place Tampa Bay Thursday night at Highmark, the first time the two teams have faced each other in USL league play, with Tampa joining the USL from the NASL this year. The Rowdies are no stranger to Highmark stadium though, visiting in 2015 for a US Open Cup tie that Rob Vincent would win for the Hounds in extra time.

Despite being third in the east, Tampa Bay is on a bit of a downswing in the form table, winless in their last five games, going 0-1-4. That run consists of four straight draws against Richmond, Rochester, Charlotte and St. Louis.  You could argue that Tampa beefed up on points early in the season against some possibly inferior competition and are falling back to the pack.  The Rowdies are also aided by playing the most games in the league at this point, with the uneven USL schedule they have played as much as four more games than other teams.

Tampa Bay do have some quality players though, leading them in scoring are Giorgi Wristov with six goals, Joe Cole with 4 and Deshorn Brown with 3 goals. Brown though, has since signed with DC United and will be missed from the Rowdies attack.  Most fans will recognize Joe Cole though, the longtime professional of the English premiership with Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Aston Villa.  Cole’s highlights in England include being a fixture in a title winning Chelsea team and starting their 2008 UEFA champions league final loss to Manchester United. Cole though, probably did not live up to lofty expectations due to an injury filled career.

The Rowdies will be missing some a key component of their backline as well when they visit Pittsburgh, Jamaican center back Damion Lowe has been called up for international duty in the Caribbean Cup.

I’d like to take a break from the current form of the Rowdies to delve in to their history a bit as they are a classic soccer franchise in the United States. The Rowdies were members of the original North American Soccer League and enjoyed the heights of the league’s boom in the late 70s.  The league boasted some of the worlds best players (some past their prime) like Pele, Franz Breckenbauer and George Best.  The Rowdies would enjoy crowds of over 50,000 in their hayday, but the success would not last, the original NASL and the Rowdies would fold and would not return for over two decades. Tampa Bay returned in 2008 and played in a couple different leagues until the new NASL fully formed and started again in 2011.

Tampa Bay moved to the USL at the start of the 2017 season along with fellow former NASL league mates the Ottawa Fury amidst rumors of the NASL’s demise.

Tampa plays their games at Al Lang stadium, a former spring training baseball stadium converted in to a full time soccer stadium over the previous two seasons. Think of a smaller version of Providence Park in Portland.

Feels like its been a while since I’ve been to a game due to the heavy work load with the pens, I look forward to having a beer with everyone tonight and hopefully three points.