I expected two things before Saturday night’s Tampa Bay Rowdies game started: a 5-0 win and an attendance equating to about one-third of last week’s record-setting crowd. I was nearly right on both accounts. Tampa bay pillaged Toronto FC II with a 4-0 victory, tying the team’s record for largest margin of victory.
“We were happy with the result and the performance from last week and we just talking about building on it,” Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell said.
The Rowdies squared up against Toronto FC II, the reserve side of Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC. But the team more closely resembled the Toronto FC youth team. The average age of the starting lineup was about 23 years old, giving most of their players their first taste of professional sports. The Rowdies’ average age is 29.
Tampa Bay showed no mercy on the innocent Canadians and seemingly built a track from mid field to the goalmouth and rode the express train onto Goaltown over and over again.
Rowdies scored three goals in a 10-minute stretch, which featured successes from Damion Lowe, Georgi Hristov, and Joe Cole. The Rowdies out-passed TFC II 594 to 380 and out-shot the Reds 16-9, with nine of those 16 shots being on target for the Rowdies. Welcome to the pros, boys.
Goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald once again replaced the injured Matt Pickens and was scarcely tested during the match.
Deshorn Brown made his Rowdies debut in the 66th minute of play, and scored his debut goal only four minutes later to give the fans another reason to cheer.
“It was a good showing overall collectively,” Rowdies’ midfielder Michael Nanchoff said. “The goal was attack, attack, attack and be relentless. We have incredible fans and we wanted to put on a show.”
A show indeed. Despite an attendance of 4,326, far less than last week’s record-setting crowd, the crowd enjoyed the display off football before them.
“It’s good the crowd came out tonight. We wanted to keep putting on a show and get the whole city behind us,” Rowdies’ midfielder Joe Cole said. “We look good at the moment and need to keep up the momentum. We want to bring a championship here.”
Cole was nursing a slight injury to his groin and hip, missing most of this past week’s training, but was still fit to start the match and score his first goal of the season.
“It’s always nice to get your first goal of the season, but the main thing is the team,” Cole said. “We need goals from all over the pitch.”
Only the clock showed mercy on Toronto II Saturday night, ending the match before Tampa Bay found a fifth goal.
This will not be the last time the Rowdies blow out their opponents this season. This certainly won’t be the last time the Rowdies play a reserve side comprised of youngsters getting their first sniff at a professional paycheck. This is the new league the Rowdies belong to. The United Soccer League is comprised roughly half of MLS II or B teams waiting to take a beating from a much more experienced and veteran-oriented club. The Rowdies have scored five goals, and given up none in the first two games of the season.
Their next opponent is fellow North American Soccer League refugee, Ottawa Fury, who played their first game of the season Saturday night, resulting in a loss. It will also be the Rowdies’ third straight match at home, giving them a chance to not only go undefeated, but make Al Lang Stadium a place opponents dread traveling to.
“We want to make this place a fortress. We want to make teams hate to come here,’ Campbell said. “It’s our home and we want to make it a fortress.”