Match: Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Harrisburg City Islanders
Date: Saturday, August 5th
Time: 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 6:30 p.m. Central, 4:30 p.m. Pacific, 11:30 p.m. UTC
Venue: Al Lang Stadium (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Refs: REF: Jonathan Bilinski AR1: Albert Escovar AR2: Madzid Coric 4TH: Miguel Martes
How Tampa Bay will look: After a bit of a rough patch in the middle of the season, the Rowdies have started to find their mojo again. They’ve won three of their last four matches over the likes of Cincinnati, Charleston, and Pittsburgh by a combined score of 6-0. To make it tougher for Harrisburg, all three of those wins occurred in the not-so-friendly confines of Al Lang Stadium.
As far as the expected lineup goes, Tampa Bay will be missing veteran player Tamika Mkandawire as he serves a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation. Former New York Cosmos player Sebastian Guenzatti may make an appearance after the Rowdies officially signed him just this week. And keep your eyes peeled for Leo Fernandes, who played a few matches with Harrisburg back in 2013 and 2014 when he was with the Philadelphia Union.
How Harrisburg will look: Harrisburg earned a road point in Orlando on Wednesday night thanks to some solid defensive play. The City Islanders allowed Orlando to come forward frequently during that match, but their defense was also on top of the ball to clear it away from danger. It’ll be interesting to see if they try to use this same approach against the more potent attack of Tampa Bay. The Rowdies have scored twenty-eight goals so far in 2017 compared to Orlando City B’s eighteen.
Don’t expect to see Paul Wilson in the midfield on Saturday night after he was stretchered off the pitch late in the Orlando match with an apparent abdominal injury. He’s just the latest Harrisburg goal scorer to fall to injury this season, it has has had a significant impact on the City Islander’s attacking options. Jake Bond subbed in for him on Wednesday, but it’s uncertain if he’ll go a full ninety minutes in the midfield.
What to expect: This is a daunting match-up on paper for Harrisburg. They’ll be playing their first ever match at Al Lang Stadium on short rest against a Tampa Bay side that’s riding a strong four match unbeaten streak. How do you find a weakness?
As I speculated before, expect to see the City Islanders follow a similar game plan to Wednesday’s Orlando match. The focus will be on avoiding giving up the big play or the breakaway. Defenders Lee Nishanian and Tiago Calvano were working overtime to shut down Orlando’s opportunities by breaking up crosses and making deep clearances. This style helps limit the number of quality chances that opposing offenses are going to get, but it allows them to control the majority of possession. But I expect the City Islanders will be okay with conceding possession as long as they can keep Tampa Bay out of the back of the net.
But how will Harrisburg find a goal after being held scoreless for the last two matches? One component that had been missing from those two matches was set pieces. Harrisburg was able to put shots on goal, but they were too often swallowed up by the keeper instead of being deflected for a corner or a rebound opportunity. Set pieces could add an element of danger that the City Islanders have been lacking. If they can find a goal, especially if it’s in the second half, they may try and park the bus to protect their points. Sometimes this works (Louisville City FC) and sometimes it doesn’t (Charlotte). But when the City Islanders are in particularly hostile territory like this, it could be their best option.
PREDICTION: Harrisburg has been a much better team in the second half of the season, but Tampa Bay has been near the top of the table all season for a reason. Tampa Bay gets the win at Al Lang 2-0.