Harrisburg was facing an uphill climb as they prepared for Saturday’s match against Tampa Bay. They were playing their second match in Florida on only two days rest, and to make matters worse most of the pregame focused on how hot and humid the conditions were in Al Lang Stadium. The City Islanders have played in hot conditions on short rest before, but it has never impacted their performance as much as it did Saturday night.
Things started out poorly for Tampa Bay as they were forced to make a substitution in the seventh minute when Joe Cole went down with a lower back issue. This ultimately didn’t have much of an impact, as the City Islanders started the match flat and spent much of their time absorbing the Tampa Bay attack without giving up good scoring opportunities. The Rowdies were however able to turn this around on Harrisburg by working around the defense to earn several corner kicks. They would go on to earn eight corner kicks in the first half alone.
Harrisburg was successful at turning these corners away until the 15th minute. A Justin Chavez corner bounced free towards the far post, and Tampa Bay defender Neill Collins was right there to tap it in. It wasn’t a masterful performance to get the goal, but it spelled doom for the City Islanders. So far in 2017 they have yet to get a win when the opposing team scores the first goal.
The rest of the first half passed without many scoring opportunities for either side. Harrisburg only managed one shot from distance that Tampa Bay keeper Matt Pickens was able to handle easily. The Rowdies continued to win corners, but they didn’t have any further shots on goal.
Not liking the team’s first half energy, Bill Becher made two subs at half time, bringing in Jonny Mendoza and Paul Wilson for Mike Olla and Jaime Thomas respectively (although there was also talk that Thomas was limping at the end of the first half). The fresh players did help perk up the City Islanders for a period, although they still didn’t find many quality chances. The best scoring opportunity for Harrisburg came when Ropapa Mensah let a shot fly from the top of the box in the 56th minute, but it was just high.
Harrisburg was able to control the ball more in the second half, but they were troubled all night by unforced errors and turnovers in the Tampa Bay half of the field. The Rowdies were willing to concede possession as they looked for their opportunity to find a second goal to put away the Islanders. Their chance finally came in the 73rd minute as Marcel Shaffer sent a perfect cross from the left side that found the head of a diving Martin Paterson. Harrisburg keeper Brandon Miller got a piece of it, but it still powered into the net for the second Tampa Bay goal of the night.
Even with about twenty minutes to go, this goal took all the air out of the City Islanders. The posture and body language of the team seemed to noticeably slip for the rest of the match. Other players responded by getting angry and frustrated at the referees, but this just led to further errors and no other quality chances. The lack of focus instead opened the door for another Tampa Bay goal in the 90th minute. Marcel Shafer was able to beat the Harrisburg defense and make a run straight for Miller. Once inside the box he slipped the ball across the face of the goal to an open Walter Restrepo who put it past Miller for the final goal of the evening.
Harrisburg doesn’t have much time to obsess over this loss as they’ll be back in action against the Rochester Rhinos this Tuesday in Harrisburg. The City Islanders have played significantly better at FNB Field this season, and they’ll need to use the next home stretch to turn things around or they risk being left out of the playoff picture.
- Harrisburg’s three game road trip went about as poorly as possible, with only one point earned and no goals scored. Fortunately for the City Islanders, they won’t be playing more than one game at a time away from City Island for the rest of the regular season.
- Paul Wilson was able to make an appearance as a substitute tonight, so it looks like his injury from earlier in the week wasn’t as serious as it first appeared. So that’s something positive to take away from last night.
- Thanks to various other results around the league, Harrisburg’s loss won’t cause them to slide too far down the table. Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Orlando all drew in their matches, while Ottawa dropped their match against Bethlehem. The only mid table team to get a win was New York Red Bulls II, which allowed them to get a tighter grip on the eighth place spot.