Rowdies keep pace with Puerto Rico in scoreless tie

So, all is lost, right?

Let's take a step back before sounding alarms.

Before going on this recent string of sub-par play in its last four contests — three ties and a 4-0 loss at San Antonio — the Rowdies were playing at an unprecedented level. Between the middle of June and the end of July, Tampa Bay had reeled off seven wins, lost one, and outscored its opponents by nine goals (15 to six).

One of the players instrumental in this run, Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, is no longer on the team, having been transferred to Yokohama FC on Aug. 4, the day the Rowdies struggled to earn a 3-3 tie at Carolina. Yoshitake was a different player this season, after coming off a 2011 campaign in which the 30-year-old striker scored just once and assisted on three goals.

This season, he started slow, but quickly found chemistry playing alongside Mike Ambersley and Luke Mulholland. He earned NASL Player of the Month in June, during which he had four goals and one assist in Tampa Bay’s three-game winning streak.

Yoshitake scored in the Rowdies’ 3-1 victory over Ft. Lauderdale in the Fourth of July contest; but he was assessed a red card in a 1-0 win at FC Edmonton on July 15, and missed the 2-0 win at home against Puerto Rico. The Rowdies had found shape in its offensive approach, but more importantly, the team created some sort of swagger.

The Rowdies have struggled to find some semblance of consistency and productiveness with its forwards since the loss of Yoshitake. Rowdies coach Ricky Hill has used five different lineups up front in the past five games, resulting in a 1-3-1 record and just four goals.

On Saturday, the Rowdies appeared to find that spark again. With newly acquired midfielder Raphael Cox in the mix, Evans Frimpong making his first start of the season, and Fafa Picault playing alongside Ambersley, the players looked quicker and livelier.

In spite of Puerto Rico packing it in defensively, the Rowdies created many chances. But they may have focused too much on perfection instead of execution. They had 13 shots, four on goals and 10 corner kicks, while the Islanders had 10 shots, four on goal and just five corners.

“I felt in the first 15, 20 minutes, we were a bit impatient trying to get beyond their packed defense with one ball from distance,” Hill said. “I was trying to urge our players to connect the passes and be safe with the ball, and put pressure on the ball. The first 20 minutes we were a bit reckless when we had quality balls, but as the first half went on, we got into the game more and more, and the ball retention was better. We just have to connect on those last touches.”

Ambersley thinks the new players will have a similar chemistry to what the Rowdies had before the loss of Yoshitake.

“We’re a little off on our final pass, our final third,” Ambersley said. “I just think it’s the final pass. The cohesiveness with the new guys in there will come. Just have to get used to working with them. It’s just a matter of getting into a groove with these guys. I’m looking forward to working with them all.”

Carl Cort, a former English Premier League player who was signed a couple weeks ago, was finally able to play and entered the game in the 78th minute. The 6-foot-4, 172-pound forward is a bit rusty, but it's clear he has the body and ability to contribute once he gets his legs under him.

“I’m delighted they all made an impact,” Hill said of the players inserted into the lineup. “Fafa played up front and he was very aggressive, a force to be contended with. Frimpong has been waiting patiently, has been lively in practice and has shown the desire to play with his play, and I’m pleased he has that 75 minutes under his belt of quality and threatening play. It was good for Raphael to get 60 minutes under his belt as well. And we only got a small taste of what’s expected of (Cort). The biggest thing he will provide is his professionalism. When he has the ball in practice, other players get a sense he knows what to do with it because he’s played on the highest level. He needs to get his conditioning but once he does he will be exciting to watch.”

So, yes, the Rowdies failed to score again and failed to win, but good things are on the horizon. The players have five games before the end of the regular season to get their chemistry and fire back. By the looks and sounds of it, they will.

Wake-up Call: The 4-0 loss to San Antonio was bad, really, really bad. But it may be one of those things where players look back, and see it as coming at just the right time.

“That was a huge game last week, for sure, and we wanted to make a statement, but we got smacked,” said Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who allowed four goals for the first time in his career with Tampa Bay. “We were on a good run. Obviously, you want to keep the run going. When you go out there and don’t really show up, you kind of get it taken to you. It makes guys wake up. It’s definitely a reality check. Sometimes, it’s hard when you’re on a good run, because guys get into a mindset like you can’t lose. So, it probably was something good for us, and we’ll see.”

Hill was disappointed with the loss, but was pleased with the team’s response against Puerto Rico.

“We got straight back to work,” Hill said. “Everything was ragged in our preparation (for San Antonio) in our back four, in particular, where we have a number of senior players back there and it was totally unacceptable. It was a surprise to them likewise. This week, we worked on our defensive shape. We worked on our defensive shape, rotating together, condensing the space when necessary, attacking the first four with pass. It was nice to see today when Puerto Rico was playing direct, when someone won it, there was someone to cover for him. The back four regrouped along with Jeff and we came out and put up a clean sheet. Their mentality after last week was in question. I threw down the gauntlet. I told them I was very surprised, and never want to see a similar performance like that again. They had their defensive organization meeting with all the defenders of the club. I talked to each individual and told them what they needed to do, also collectively. Now I’m hoping they can build on that.”

Arrival of Cort: It took more time than expected for Cort to go through the process of gaining his visa to play in the country, but he is finally here and ready to make the most of his time with the Rowdies.

The London-native has considerable professional experience, most notably the five seasons spent with Newcastle of the English Premier League, and is looking to use his experience with the Rowdies to help the team win and to rebuild his career.

Cort suffered a torn Achilles in his left leg in July 2010, and his recovery has been slow and long.

“The recovery took a year and a bit, and the injury has been temperamental and it’s taken me awhile to get myself right before coming back again,” Cort said. “I thought coming here with this sort of regime would be perfect for me.”

This summer, Cort — who is of Guyanese descent — has been playing on the Guyana national team with Rowdies defender J.P. Rodrigues.

“It’s just a matter of getting myself back and fit and playing,” Cort said. “I am still capable of playing. First and foremost, it’s a matter of showing (the fans) what I can do, making an impact.”

Penalties: Mike Ambersley missed a penalty kick in the first half — the third time this season he missed. It may be time for someone else to step in and take the freebies.

It appeared Puerto Rico keeper Richard Martin moved off his line early, but it is still no excuse. Ambersley needs to put those in the back of the net.

“I had my head down and was going that way the whole time,” Ambersley said. “I hit it hard. I looked up and he was already there.”

Quotable: Jeff Attinella on a save in which the ball hit him in the arms and fluttered over the goal.
"That one knuckled on me, it just dropped, I just threw my hands at it as hard as I could, it went from here and just dropped, I thought it ws going to go in after I touched it, I looked up and it ws over the cross bar, and played it off like I knew what I was doing."

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On Saturday, Aug. 25, in a home game at Al Lang Stadium, the Rowdies posted a scoreless draw against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Sure, the Tampa team earned a point in the NASL standings and stayed even with the Islanders for second place, but it failed to score for the third straight game.

Newly acquired forward Carl Cort played for the first time this season after signing with the Rowdies two weeks ago. He entered the game late and almost scored.
  • Newly acquired forward Carl Cort played for the first time this season after signing with the Rowdies two weeks ago. He entered the game late and almost scored.

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