For Maicon Santos, these are the days of his rebirth.
There is always something sweet in the story of a second chance, of a fresh canvas. Santos’ story is one of those. Perhaps, he will help to turn it into the fresh hope of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Look at Santos now, running free and easy, covering ground, attacking the net. He scored two goals and had an assist against the Jacksonville Armada Saturday night in a 3-2 victory, and the truth is, he could have had four, maybe goals. It was a night designed for Santos and his unbridled energy, a night when he upped his team lead in goals to six.
Now, picture him a year ago, 50 pounds heavier with extremely high blood pressure, hoping to hang onto his soccer career.
“I’m in his game because I want to win,” Rowdies coach Thomas Rongen said. “I’m also in his game because he’s one of those feel-good stories. He’s a guy in the MLS who basically wasn’t good enough. He was a guy with extremely high blood pressure, and if he didn’t change certain things, he was going to die. He lost 50 pounds, and he changed his diet. Tonight, I told him ‘you’re looking good’ and he said “thank you for giving me a second chance.’ That’s cool. When you’re young, you done care about that (stuff), but when you get older, you do.
“He could have had two more. He could have four or five, but that’s a rarity. We hit a new cylinder when with him rounding into shape, with Georgi (Hristov).”
For the Rowdies, the whole key was the counter-punch. No one in the NASL pushes the ball offensively the way the Armada does, but by pushing so hard, Jacksonville leaves itself open to the counter attack. Saturday night, it led to all three goals and a 3-0 deficit to a Rowdies team that has struggled to score goals. Tampa Bay was 0-3-1 over the last month.
“Not just the offense but the whole team,” Santos said. “We had to get back to winning, three points.”
Santos scored in the second minute but was offsides. He scored at the seven-minute mark on a pass from Martin Nunez. Then he made a nice pass to Brian Shriver, who one timed the ball into the net from the top of the box.
Earlier in the season, Santos was named NASL player of the week after scoring two goals against Jacksonville which, frankly, ought to be a little tired of him.
“Maicon was able to spin his defender and once I saw him get into space, I took off and tried to be an option for him,” Shriver said. “He clipped the ball over to me, I took a good first touch. I wanted to hit it after the first touch, so I hit it on the half volley so the ball wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. I struck it clean and it felt really good.”
If there was a a downside to the game, Rongen said, it was the game management of the last 30 minutes. The Rowdies’ wall broke down, which allowed Alhassane Kieta to score twice.
“We had some drama because of those two unneccessary goals,” said goalkeeper Kamil Contofalsky, who had not started and finished a win since the opener on April 4. “It’s something we’ll have to work on.”
“They didn’t make it easy on me and my heart,” said Rongen. “We executed our gameplan very well. We didn’t change anything from our last game. We wanted to be compact and well organized with our block of six including Marcelo Saragosa, Juan Guerra and the back four.”
The Rowdies played without Stefan Antonijevic and Freddie Adu, both injured.
The Rowdies have a two-game road swing starting next week, traveling to Fort Lauderdale to face the Strikers and then going to Indianapolis to face the Indy 11.