By MIKE GRAMAJO
This past spring didn’t go as planned for the 2012 North American Soccer League Champions.
After a disappointing campaign, the Tampa Bay Rowdies look to turn things around in the upcoming Fall Season when they kickoff against the San Antonio Scorpions on Saturday, August 3, at Toyota Field.
“We are delighted that the NASL Fall Season is beginning this weekend,” Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill told NASL.com. “I am just as eager as our players to get back on the pitch and prove that we deserve to be in the Soccer Bowl final.
“We have a tough match in San Antonio but we expect to come away with the three points.”
Scorpions forward Hans Denissen, who scored six goals in his last eight games, hit the Rowdies with the dagger last time the teams met, scoring a late-winner after a miscue in the Rowdies defense.
Midfielders Luke Mulholland (four goals in 12 appearances), and Keith Savage (three goals in 11 appearances), combined for three goals in their last seven matches, which is something Coach Hill’s side may want to improve on after going on a four-game skid during the middle of the Spring Season.
Here’s a preview of the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2013 NASL Fall Season:
TAMPA BAY ROWDIES SEASON PREVIEW
KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Etienne Barbara (2011 NASL MVP)
HEAD COACH: Ricky Hill, currently in his third season with the St. Petersburg side. Having managed Luton Town of the Conference Premier in 2000, Hill took a hiatus from coaching soccer until returning in 2011 to manage Tampa Bay, which saw him lead the club to its first North American League Championship in 2012.
Yes, the 2013 spring season was a shocker for the defending champions.
It took until the final week of the spring campaign for the Rowdies to finally register a victory at home, and that was an enormous fault the Rowdies dealt with all season. While successful on the road, their inability to win at Al Lang Field kept the Rowdies from competing for a chance to host the Soccer Bowl in November.
The Rowdies were able to find some momentum toward the end of the season, which included closing out the season on a two-game winning streak and thrashing the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the Florida Derby.
Tampa Bay was part of a trade that sent forward Mike Ambersley to Minnesota United FC in exchange for 2011 NASL MVP Etienne Barbara, a move that could enhance a Rowdies attack that already led the league in scoring with 21 goals.
“We’re pleased to add a striker of Etienne’s caliber,” Rowdies CEO and General Manager Andrew Nestor told the team’s website. “After discussions with Perry and Ricky, we believe Etienne will add quality and a new dimension to our offense led by Georgi Hristov and Luke Mulholland.
“This deal should help us as we make a serious run to repeat this season, and also position us well going forward as we address other positions.”
While only scoring twice in the spring, Barbara will join Bulgarian Georgi Hristov, who has five goals, three of them coming in his last six matches. Midfielder Luke Mulholland and Keith Savage could also add to the list of attackers for the Rowdies.
While there’s no doubt that the Rowdies have the attack they need, coach Hill’s side will rely much of their season on finishing, and closing out games.
“A good result in San Antonio will be very important, as a week later we host the Cosmos at Al Lang Stadium,” Hill said.