Nashville SC travels to one of the toughest road venues in the USL when they take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium. Since 2017, the Rowdies are an impressive 14-1-6 at home in the USL regular season.
The Boys in Gold will look to end Tampa Bay’s 18-game home unbeaten streak on Saturday with kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT. The last time the Rowdies lost at Al Lang Stadium was on April 22, 2017 when Brian Anunga scored in the 89th minute to give the Charleston Battery the 3-2 victory.
The Rowdies have had an up-and-down start to the 2018 season, dealing with injuries and changing coaches. Many pundits picked the Rowdies to win the Eastern Conference before the start of the season.
This is in contrast to Nashville, which is one of the hottest teams in the USL at the moment, riding a nine game unbeaten streak after beating the Colorado Rapids 2-0 on Wednesday in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup.
“We’re in a really good place. It’s my job for me to navigate, at the present time, the most difficult game now. The guys have been up there, and have hit a peak. They’re going to be coming (down) in trying to recover,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith after Wednesday’s victory. “We have a huge challenge this weekend, make no mistake. Tampa are a very good side, extremely efficient at home. We’ve all got to try and get ourselves in position where we can get something out of the game.”
Nashville sits in sixth place with 19 points and a game in hand on the Rowdies who are in eight place with 17 points. Saturday’s game could prove pivotal for both teams looking to make the playoffs.
Squad Rotation is Key for Nashville
Nashville has played its best soccer during a grueling schedule of multiple games on two to three days of rest. Saturday’s match is near the end of six games in 17 days dating back to the club’s 3-1 victory over Mississippi Brilla on May 23.
Smith has done a great job rotating players in and out of the starting lineup to manage his players’ minutes to avoid injuries without any let down in performance. The additions of striker Brandon Allen and midfielder Ismalia Jome have added an offensive spark and needed depth.
“The guys have kept themselves extremely well through this long stretch, and have recovered well,” Smith said. “When you’re winning and doing well as a group, the next game becomes more important. Although (Wednesday’s win vs. Colorado) is fabulous, we’re not going to have a lot of time to enjoy it. They now have a very big game, because if Tampa were to beat us, they go above us (in the table). Of course, it’s not going to be the end of the world, but on this really good run we want to maintain some parity and continue our good form. The good news is, when you’re winning, everyone wants to play.”
Neill Collins Transitions from Player to Rowdies Head Coach
Tampa Bay defender Neill Collins was named the new Rowdies’ head coach after Stuart Campbell stepped down on May 17.
The Rowdies started the 2018 season with a 4-5-0 record under Campbell, including four straight shutout losses. Campbell took over the Rowdies in 2015 and finished with a 26-22-27 record. Campbell’s last game as head coach was a 1-0 loss against the Jacksonville Armada in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Collins told the Tampa Bay Times it will be tough to take off the uniform, but he is focused on improving the team. The 34-year-old Scotland native made 67 appearances for the Rowdies since joining the club in 2016. Before playing in the United States, Collins had played in the English Championship and League One for Sunderland, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leeds United. The center back’s professional career spans 18 years with 583 league and cup appearances.
Since Collins appointment to head coach, the Rowdies have end their losing streak by posting a 1-0-2 record. The Rowdies currently sit in eighth place with 17 points after a 0-0 draw against Atlanta United II last Saturday at Al Lang Stadium.
The draw against Atlanta ended The Rowdies’ 30-game scoring streak at home.
Rowdies Must Overcome Injuries and Suspensions
Tampa Bay will be without half a dozen players — many of them significant contributors — when Nashville takes the field. This list includes starting midfielders Joe Cole and Marcel Schäfer who are serving a one game suspensions. The Rowdies are also missing David Najem, Kyle Curinga, Zac Portillos and Lance Rozeboom due to injuries.
How to Watch Saturday’s Game