Casual Rambling
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Casual Rambling

Now or Never: Tampa Bay Rowdies 2018 Season Preview

from Squawka

If we learned anything from the Rowdies’ 2017 playoff campaign, it’s that styles make fights. (And veteran European players are very very very good)

Using said logic, I suspect that USL success in 2018 will be dependent on three things:

Coaching. Consistency. Momentum. There’s practically a linear progression to it.

Good coaching develops players to perform consistently and thus gain momentum by winning matches. Let’s focus on the coaching for a moment, because it is paramount in a league with constant player turnover.

The Rowdies have 10 new players on the 2018 roster. This is the nature of the beast. Soccer is a sport where players are constantly playing on short-term contracts and transferring from club to club. Especially at the Division 2 level where good players move up and bad players get cut.

Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell has his work cut out for him on the defensive side with four new defenders and some shaky returners.

from The Telegraph; pre-suit Stuart Campbell

Campbell also has to work through the road bug of last season where the club only managed three away victories over the entire season. All three wins came against below average teams. Campbell would often say the club was unlucky not to win or draw, but eventually you have to come to terms with not using luck to earn points.

Campbell also made some curious lineup decisions at the end of the season that I believe ultimately cost the Rowdies in their playoff loss to the Red Bulls II.

With the criticisms now levied, I 100% believe Stuart Campbell is a good coach. But 2018 is a dire season if the Rowdies have championship dreams. Campbell is guaranteed (if healthy) one more season of Joe Cole, Marcel Schafer, and Georgi Hristov. Along with defenders Neill Collins and Tamika Mkandwaire, Campbell has five players either in or entering the twilight of their career. You can wish it ain’t so, but father time is undefeated.

With this current roster construction, for guys like Cole and Collins, this is their shot at securing some hardware in 2018 and going out with a bang.

We’ve established that Campbell is a solid coach, and after working through some mid-season hiccups, the Rowdies were consistent and picked up momentum into the playoffs last year. After being caught off guard by a speedy young scrappy Red Bulls II team (styles make fights), 2018 is the season where the Rowdies need to take their one step into a championship leap.

Goalkeepers

Long live Matt Pickens.

Former Rowdies keeper Matt Pickens has joined the USL’s Nashville FC expansion team whom the Rowdies will host in June. I’m assuming Pickens joined Nashville so that when he’s not saving goals he’ll be fighting bears somewhere in the Appalachian mountains (you can find all that near Nashville right?).

So it’s finally Akira Fitzgerald’s time, right? He looked pretty good in the first three games of last season… Well…

Cody Mizell is coming off a full season of starts with the Charlotte Independence recording a 67% save percentage (Pickens was 67% as well). I expect Fitzgerald to be in a backup role unless he really wows in training and preseason.

from The Charlotte Post; the educated assumption would be that this is Mizell’s position to lose

Predicted Starter:

Goalkeeper: Mizell

Defenders

Taking a deep breath.

As I’ve mentioned, there are four new players that I don’t know much about yet.

Max Lachowecki, Kyle Curinga, and David Najem have been brought in to assess the dire need at left and right back. Portillos is the only remaining outside back and he struggled mightily at times.

Neill Collins and Tamika Mkandawire are the veteran centre-backs with the returning Hunter Gorskie in the fray as well. Ivan Magalhaes is Gorskie’s likely competitor to work alongside Collins. Gorskie found some scoring success quickly last year, but like Portillos, struggled defensively allowing players to beat him on and off the ball.

Predicting who will emerge as the back line for the Rowdies is a crap shoot until there’s more tape on these guys. I’ll take a stab at who becomes the solidified starters at midseason just for fun.

from Express and Star; While Collins is an enforcer in the box, he’ll need assistance in the back for his lack of pace

Predicted Starters

Centre Back: Collins and Magalhaes

Full Back: Curinga and Lachowecki (guarantee we will see every full back possible combination before the season is over)

Midfielders

There’s an embarrassment of riches in the midfield. Schafer, Cole, Hristov, and Morrell all returning to terrorize defenses. Add Junior Flemmings to the mix and we’ve got a starting five already, I mean what more do I have to say?

Let’s talk formation for a moment. Most of last year the Rowdies ran a 4–5–1. Five midfielders with one lone striker. The trick to it was that the two wingers, which at it’s best was Morrell and Hristov, would play forward. There’d be a holding midfielder playing defense and Cole and Schafer would play like point guards navigating the offense.

In the middle of the season, Campbell changed to a 4–3–3 but the concept was still pretty much the same. A 4–5–1 is a safe bet for the Rowdies opening lineup.

Campbell likes sturdy defense and possession ball.

The underrated position battle will be between Lance Rozeboom and Martin Viingard for the holding midfielder spot.

I expect Nanchoff and Fernandes to be the backups for Cole and Schafer.

I’m buying up all the Junior Flemmings stock. He terrorized the Rowdies last year and is an absolute lightning rod on the attack.

Alex Morrell was the Rowdies’ breakout star last year and there’s a lot to be excited about if he can bring even more skill to the pitch this season.

The goal for Cole, Hristov, and Schafer is to stay healthy. New year, more goals in the forecast for Hristov. Cole and Schafer will continue to run the offense.

from SaintPetersBlog; Marcel Schafer was All-USL First Team last season and one of the five finalists for League MVP. He also made SportsCenter Top 10. Twice.

Predicted Starters

Outside Midfielders: Hristov and Morrell

Centre Midfielders: Schafer and Cole

Defensive Midfielder: Rozeboom

Forwards

A kick in the Graf.

There’s two forwards. Let’s be honest. The Rowdies roster calls Georgi a forward but Georgi himself has said he’ll play on the back line if he has to so he’s practically positionless at this point. Georgi’s a left midfielder or left winger.

The Rowdies big splash for 2018 was Jochen Graf. Graf tallied 11 goals for the Rochester Rhinos in 2017. At six feet and 180 lbs, Graf is quite the imposing striker. With so many playmakers surrounding Graf, his job will be to be in the right place and finish off scoring plays. If all goes well, Graf should have another 10+ goal season ahead of him.

When Graf visited Al Lang last season, he bullied Neill Collins going right past him for an easy goal in the sixth minute of the match. Graf can be crafty with his passing, but his best work comes inside the box.

Guenzatti hasn’t inspired much confidence in me from the jump, I’d expect to see him in a backup capacity to Graf.

from TwiBlue; Jochen Graf

Predicted Starter

Striker: Graf

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J. King

J. King

Not your average Medium rambler