Shortly after he lost a game when a ball caromed off one of his best player’s faces, Tampa Bay Rowdies’ coach Thomas Rongen said it was time for some new ones.
In the aftermath of the Rowdies’ 1-0 loss to FC Edmonton, Rongen vowed to shuffle the deck with his players before next week’s game against Fort Lauderdale. He talked of introducing several new players to his lineup, including newly signed sensation Freddy Adu “provided he has a good week.”
Perhaps it is time. The Rowdies have now been shut out in three of their last four games, and their offense is struggling to finish plays in the final third of the field. Take Saturday night’s game, the first home game the Rowdies have lost since Rongren became the team’s head coach.
The Rowdies lost this when goaltender Matt Pickens made a save on a point-blank shot, but to do so, he had to spike the ball into the ground. It flew directly into the face of prone defender Stefan Antonijevic and bounded into the net for the game’s only goal.
Tampa Bay had several chances late, including shots by Ben Sweat and Antonijevic, but the closest they came was when Maicon Santos kicked the ball into the net in the 89th minute. However, he was offside on the play, a call that Rongen agreed with.
“I didn’t think I was offside,” Santos said.
That’s the game, however. Take the half-body of Santos. Add in the face of Antonijevic. Together, it added up to the Rowdies’ sixth shutout in 13 games and a narrow defeat.
“I did enough to get (Roberts) out of position and Matt made a great save, but the unfortunate happened,” Antonijevic said of the only goal of the match. “It ricocheted off my face and into the goal. That’s how soccer goes sometimes. You might be the better team on the field, statistically, but what matters is the end result. Today, we were the better team, but we didn’t put away what we had to put away and they scored one and that’s all they needed.
“I think if Matt hit it anywhere else besides my ugly face, it wouldn’t have gone in. It happened so quick that I really didn’t see the play. It was a snap of the fingertips and it was in the goal.”
“I haven’t lost too many (like that)” Rongen said. “You don’t see that very often, it’s not a play that happens anywhere in the world.”
The Rowdies players acknowledge that they have not made the plays close to the other goal. Rongen suggests they have gotten predictable.
“It’s not that we’re not creating opportunities,” Antonijevek said. “It’s that extra push. That killer instinct. You can bring the horse to water but you can’t make the horse drink the water. It’s like a rubber band. You can only stretch it out so far before it snaps.”
Forward Brian Shriver said it was frustrating. “We’re struggling to connect the final third,” he said.
Rongen promised changes for the coming week. He talked about Adu, and about Georgi Hristov, and Santos. After all, the Rowdies have scored only 13 goals in their 17 games.
“Let’s be honest,” Rongen said. “We have to make some personnel chances. There will be some players who haven’t started for a few weeks who start. And Adu, if he has a good week, there will be no hesitation in starting him. If there is a time to do it, it’s now. It’s warranted, I think.”
The Rowdies play rival Fort Lauderdale at Al Lang on Saturday at 7:30.