ST. PETERSBURG — A clean slate. That is the philosophy for coach Ricky Hill as his Tampa Bay Rowdies move into the second season of the 2014 NASL campaign.
Tampa Bay opens its fall season against the Atlanta Silverbacks at 7:30 tonight at Al Lang Stadium after some near-misses, would-be chances and points that slipped away in finishing the spring season with a 2-3-4 record.
“It’s a clean slate for us now, and I’ve told our guys not to dwell too much on the past,” Hill said. “I hope with this second period we can start from scratch. ... We just need to focus on what we can do moving forward.”
The Rowdies scored 11 goals during the nine-game spring season, with Georgi Hristov leading the scoring with two goals and two assists. Hristov, 29, made a big impact in 2013, earning the NASL Golden Ball as the league MVP after scoring 12 goals and adding a league-leading eight assists.
The roster includes eight forwards, more attackers than any other NASL team, and Hill admits the team needs to get more physical when it has control in matches.
“From a mentality perspective, we need to be a lot tougher, a lot more hardened in those moments whereby we are well in the game where we have had some lapses,” Hill said. “We need to, when we have those breakdowns, regain the momentum and not let a single mistake take over.”
In three of the four draws in the spring, according to Hill, the Rowdies let momentum or leads disappear in the final 10 minutes.
The side had showed flashes of offensive prowess recently, scoring three goals in a draw against Minnesota United FC to close the spring season, and scoring three goals in a friendly victory against Fort Lauderdale and two goals in a 3-2 loss to Orlando City last week.
For the fall season, the Rowdies added Argentinian striker Luciano Olguin and Malawi-born English defender Tamika Mkandawire. Olguin, 32, has played internationally in Argentina, Belgium, China and Greece. Mkandawire, 31, a 6-foot-1 defender, recently captained the Shrewsbury Town FC team in the English Football Association’s League Two.
The Rowdies also hope to increase their offensive potency with the return of Amani Walker, who missed the spring season while recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee. Walker, who joined the Rowdies last season after two seasons with the Minnesota Stars FC, scored two goals in 2013.
All three newcomers will need to be eased into the season.
The NASL split into two seasons means Minnesota United FC, the spring winner, earns a berth in the four-team playoff series. The winner of the fall season, as well as the two teams with the most combined points over the two seasons, also advance.
With 10 points, the Rowdies are in a three-way tie behind five teams in the playoff hunt.