Tampa Bay Rowdies 2021 Midseason Report
How each position group is fairing so far
For the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Rowdies were well on their way to making the USL look ripe for a repeat. The Rowdies ripped off 5 straight wins to start their campaign and only lost twice in their first 10 matches.
After their tenth match, the Rowdies ran into a spell of three straight losses in eleven days. The schedule has weighed heavy and the Rowdies have had limited depth in attacking roles with injuries to Steevan Dos Santos, Juan Tejada, Lucky Mkosana, and Luiz Fernando.
The defense has looked more porous in recent games as the Rowdies can no longer rely on shutout performances. The Rowdies haven’t earned a shutout in their last 6 games and have given up 9 goals over that span. The Rowdies only gave up 3 goals in their first 6 games.
There are a couple of different ways to assess the Rowdies dip in form and how it projects for the second half of fixtures.
Goals becoming tougher on the offensive end point toward the injury factor limiting the options to Guenzatti as the target option. Fernandes has stepped up as well but he’s more of a creator than a shooter. Guenzatti has carried the offensive load with 9 goals to his name which is good for a tie for 3rd in the USL.
Guenzatti has played more off-ball than establishing himself as a false-9 where he takes over more playmaking duties. Guenzatti has still showcased his positioning which is one of the more underrated striker skills in the game.
This was the game-winner against Hartford where it’s a magnificent ball by Dalgaard that leads to a soft shot that isn’t cleared well and guess who’s there? It’s the attention to detail that separates Guenzatti as a scorer. He anticipates the poor clearance before the defender marking him can and it’s one-nil.
Some on-ball brilliance by Dayonn Harris would be all for naught if it wasn’t for Guenzatti’s delayed run into the middle. Guenzatti gets into the box unmarked.
Guenzatti is scoring every 150 minutes which is good but he can’t do it (not to say he won’t try, he’s tied for the lead league in total shots at 43 with a blistering 30 on target). He’s scored 3 times in the last 8 games and it’s clear to Coach Neill Collins that the Rowdies have to find other ways to score.
This was evidenced in the Rowdies' previous game against a reeling Red Bulls II squad. The Rowdies only scored both their goals on headers where they relied on the Baby Bulls' lack of defensive communication.
Guenzatti has been flanked by Zach Steinberger for much of the season with Dayonn Harris and Jordan Adebayo-Smith also playing up top.
Steinberger has been a fixed piece in the Rowdies attack but it is concerning to see that in 1,000 game minutes he hasn’t contributed a goal or an assist. It’s not that Steinberger should be stuffing the stat sheet, but he is needed to free up Lewis Hilton and offer a different playmaking or attacking option.
When Steinberger’s touch fails him, it halts the Rowdies offensive momentum and leads to counter-attacking opportunities. With no Steevan Dos Santos to hold up play in the attacking third, the duty falls between Steinberger and Guenzatti. Harris and Adebayo-Smith are converted wingers. They play on the shoulder of the last defender to create one-on-ones or breakaways. If you can’t stretch the defense in the midfield, the backline can keep its shape and prevent through balls or lofted balls over the top.
It’s a tricky puzzle the Rowdies are navigating right now, and that’s simply on the offensive end.
Collins’ toughest decisions come with who to play in the midfield. For a spell, it was the Lewis Hilton solo show as he set the table for the Rowdies offense. Yann Ekra was another preseason injury the Rowdies had to wait out and he is a crucial box-to-box player. Steinberger usually checks in as the attacking midfielder. Laurence Wyke and Jordan Doherty are the rotation options.
Doherty continues to be a defensive midfield option which doesn’t exactly help when the Rowdies are chasing games late. It’s hard to make out what role Wyke fills. He’s been used as a centre-back on occasion so you could say he’s also another defensive midfielder but he does make a lot of runs forward so you could say he’s a box-to-box player.
The offensive finesse isn’t polished enough for Wyke to be a playmaking or scoring option though. It’s similar to the Dominic Oduro quandary where the desire to play offensively is there but the end product may hurt more than it helps. Wyke did get his first assist last week.
The left midfield spot has been populated by the usual suspect Leo Fernandes who still contributes his high level of playmaking. Fernandes has notched 3 goals on the season, his goal against Miami FC I got to see in person. It was an impressive strike.
It’s also another highlight where Dalgaard is delivering a dime, but we’ll get to him in a moment.
The health and management of Fernandes will be critical during this stretch run because of his chemistry with Guenzatti.
I can hear the Lachowecki fan club rumbling about his goal and assist against Red Bulls II which caught me off guard. It’s like Collins went into the lab where Chris Evans got his Captain America powers and put Lachowecki in there.
All kidding aside I’m not sure what to make of that performance and if we’ll continue to see improved touches and passing from Lachowecki. I still see him as someone who will get picked on defensively but as a rare rotation option, if he can keep playing within himself, it could take a little toll off of Fernandes.
Dalgaard has been the real revelation here though. I originally considered him a defensive wing option like a David Najem. That’s certainly how Dalgaard played last season. ‘21 Dalgaard has had the ball at his feet and has tried to beat defenders off the dribble. He’s put crosses in good positions and is just more comfortable with the ball at his feet on the wing.
Dalgaard isn’t playmaking as much as Fernandes or Hilton have but his passing and crossing numbers are all pretty solid.
Lewis Hilton is the centerpiece of the Rowdies midfield this season. He leads the Rowdies with 61 passes per 90 minutes and has nearly identical totals passing to his left and right. Hilton leads the Rowdies with 3 assists and 32 key passes. He’s 9th in the USL in total passes and 6th in chance creation.
Guenzatti and Hilton are both upwards of 1,300 minutes so far. Only the defensive group and Louro have more minutes logged. This tells you how crucial Collins believes their efforts and contributions to winning are. Guenzatti being the primary goal scorer and Hilton being the stalwart presence in the middle.
If there are two names that are likely to be considered for All-USL teams, they will likely be headlining the list for the Rowdies. Hilton’s importance to the Rowdies cannot be understated enough, and he’s performed well.
The concern on the defensive end is that the Rowdies have often conceded goals early in games. Of the Rowdies’ six losses, five of those games the Rowdies conceded a goal within the first 30 minutes. The Rowdies have come from behind twice to win games but in both scenarios, it was to the worst two teams in the Atlantic Division, Loudoun and Red Bulls II. In terms of record and goal differential, Loudoun and Red Bulls II are at the bottom of the USL with Oakland.
The defensive crew is still the same with Forrest Lasso, Jordan Scarlett, and Aaron Guillen as the brave trio. Collins asks a lot of his midfield to aid in defending so any talk about the Rowdies defense starts from the front to the back of his formation.
The three-back system has left the Rowdies culpable to counters but poor clearances and awareness in the box have also been a factor for the defense.
Anytime the Rowdies lose possession in the midfield the back three are typically left scrambling. Losing possession in the midfield when Dane Kelly is on is a death sentence as evidenced above. All it took was one poor touch from Wyke and the counter was on.
The second goal probably got a fair bit of analysis from the Rowdies coaching staff as the defense looked lost in the box. There were also occasions like this in the Miami losses.
Scarlett, Lasso, and Guillen all had moments during the three-game losing streak where the defending was poor. They’re a strong and determined group though. If they’re poor in form, it’ll show in the Pittsburgh matchup which will be a critical match for two of the top teams in the Atlantic.
As for Louro. He’s good.
With 16 matches still to come, the Rowdies have a long way to go.
Louisville is the class of the East at the moment. The Lilleyball Riverhounds are going to be a factor and really annoying to play in the playoffs should they make it (they probably will).
Birmingham is sitting pretty in the central as Indy Eleven is in a crowded midfield race.
The Rowdies don’t have to play either Louisville or Indy which feels off but the USL schedule has been adapted for our strange COVID times.
The Rowdies' concern in the Atlantic is the rise of Miami FC who has a legitimate shot in my opinion and a frisky Hartford Athletic team that has been rejuvenated by their young coach, Harry Watling.
The Rowdies will see both Pittsburgh and Hartford again twice, with only one more Miami game left on the schedule. Those games will be crucial to decide the winner of the Atlantic division.
Will the Rowdies win the Atlantic? I’m not a betting man but I believe it depends on the success of midfielders not named Lewis Hilton. If Steinberger can raise his form, add a fully fit Ekra, and maybe an established wing opposite Fernandes, the Rowdies could start looking dominant again.
I will attest though that the USL has a lot of parity. The best teams do rise to the top and the pretenders will rest at the bottom but middle-of-the-pack teams are as dangerous as Louisville and Pittsburgh. Teams like Charlotte and Charleston offer real matchup problems for any team in the league.
If the Rowdies can nab a few road results, they’ll be in good shape. Al Lang continues to be a tough place to play.
A win over Hartford in game 17 will put the Rowdies back on top of the Atlantic with a game in hand.
God bless for a full season of Rowdies soccer. Fun times are ahead.