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Five things to watch for at the Tampa Bay Rowdies-Toronto soccer match

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Five things to ponder about Saturday night’s game between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Toronto FC II:

1. Mirror images. Both teams won their opening games 1-0. The Rowdies beat Orlando City B, while Toronto beat Phoenix Rising. In a way, then, this early-season battle of the unbeatens could be the start of competition in the USL’s Eastern Division.

2. The finish: For the Rowdies, one of the oldest problems that continues to nag is the ability to finish its runs. That was a problem Saturday night. The Rowdies dominated Orlando City, outshooting it 21-3, but could only manage the one goal. Georgi Hristov, who scored on the team’s penalty kick, missed two of those opportunities.

3. Marcel Shaffer: Shaffer had an impressive debut for the Rowdies last week, but he played only eight days after arriving from his native Germany. Shaffer should be more acclimated this week.

“To win games is the most important thing in my life since I was five years old,” Schafer said this week. “As a soccer player, you train every day for Saturday night, for the main part of the week. To win games is why I’m here. That’s why I’m a soccer player and that’s what I live for.”

4. Defense rules: Goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald will likely play instead of Matt Pickens again this week. Fitzgerald was good enough to get a clean sheet (shutout) last week, but he really didn’t have to do a lot of work. The defense in front of Fitzgerald allowed only three shots, which should the Rowdies a chance in most games.

5. The crowd: The Rowdies drew a record crowd of 7.710 last week against Orlando City B. Can they do it again? It’ll be tougher, with the Lightning playing and the Rays opening the next day. But the Rowdies have emphasized their crowds all off-season. Look for another boisterous bunch.


Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit

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