Last week, I talked to Mike Manganello, who covers the Tampa Bay Rowdies for the Tampa Tribune, ahead of the Rowdies' visit to Minnesota. This week, United makes the return trip, visiting Tampa on Saturday evening.
I got back in touch with Mike to look back at last week's game, and look ahead to what's in store this week for the two teams.
SoccerCentric: So Rowdies 3, United 2 last week. From what I could see, Minnesota controlled the game, especially in the first half - but Tamps Bay got three opportunistic goals and snatched away the points. Your thoughts?
Mike Manganello: Yeah, it was kind of a strange game where Minnesota arguably had the better of the play, but Tampa Bay was able to score from unlikely goals and capitalize on Minnesota mistakes. The three points definitely feel stolen, but it was another good showing on the road for the Rowdies. If they could play as well at home as they do on the road, they would be the walk-away winners of this Spring season. They've got two total points from three home games and haven't yet dropped a point on the road, winning all three road games.
SC: It does bring up a good question. The Rowdies are at home this week, where they haven't been good - and they've got Seattle coming in next week, potentially a much bigger game. Do the Rowdies just put out a half-strength team for Saturday, and focus on next week instead?
MM: Yes and no, because the Sounders game isn't actually until Wednesday. I think there will be major differences between the two lineups, but it's not like the lineup against Minnesota will be weak. You might see a guy like Devin Del Do, who's been playing consistently, but off the bench, start the game alongside Carl Cort, who isn't quite ready to play 90 minutes yet and will have a role to play off the bench against Seattle. Shane Hill didn't play in Tuesday night's Open Cup game due to the international player limit. Nor did Takuya Yamada, who was in Japan playing in a testimonial match. Those guys will likely play major minutes Saturday, so it will still be a recognizable Rowdies team, just maybe not the same one that plays against Seattle.
SC: I know how much United was looking forward to an Open Cup date with an MLS team. Will that Seattle game be one of the biggest games of the year for the Rowdies?
MM: Hosting the Sounders will be definitely be the biggest game of the season, besides a potential Soccer Bowl title game. Last year, the Rowdies hosted the Colorado Rapids in the Open Cup, but the Rapids don't carry nearly the same weight as the Sounders. I think in lower-division soccer circles, the Sounders are almost revered as the team that paid its dues in the lower leagues and moved into MLS and have now developed into one of the most visible clubs in the league. Apart from LA Galaxy or NY Red Bulls coming to town, Seattle is probably the best draw Rowdies could have hoped for. If the Soccer Bowl game is here, that'll be a big night too and the annual July 4 game against the Strikers is pretty popular, but soccer fans that have never been to a Rowdies game will come to see the Sounders. I've already heard from a few asking me the best way to get tickets.
SC: Turning northward, it'd be interesting to hear an outsider's perspective on Minnesota. The team looked like it was building an all-star squad, but now they've lost three straight and are kind of in a tailspin. What does it look like from afar?
MM: It certainly looks surprising. The squad looks, on paper, to have a disproportionate amount of the NASL's star players and Manny Lagos is certainly seen as one of the best coaches in this league. Most preseason predictions had Minnesota winning the league, with Tampa Bay and San Antonio fighting for a meaningless second-place finish. Of those three teams, the only team really having a successful season is Tampa Bay.
But then again, if you say Minnesota beats the Rowdies this week, Minnesota is tied for first. If you'll allow a cross-sports reference, Minnesota feels a bit like the Philadelphia Eagles last season, where they clearly won the offseason by acquiring tons of stars, but the on-field product wasn't good enough. Maybe they just really need the break between seasons to mesh together and then they'll be the dominant team we expected in the fall season. Either the team is constructed poorly with players that can't play together, which is a major issue, or they're compatible but still too unfamiliar. I hope it's the latter. My general feeling is that the Minnesota will be fun to watch at the end of the spring season and throughout the fall.
SC: All right. So, let's have a prediction for the weekend; we've just seen these two teams play each other, but Tampa's bad at home and Minnesota's free-falling at the moment. I'm going to guess it'll be a 2-2 draw. Your prediction?
MM: I think the specific way the Rowdies won in Minnesota with that late goal put them into a groove. Tuesday night's Open Cup win wasn't convincing, but it was a win. I'm going to say 3-1 Tampa Bay to put the Rowdies alone in first place.
SC: As always, Mike: thanks for being a good sport and educating us on the Rowdies.