Match: Penn FC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Date: Friday, June 22nd
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, FL)
Refs: REF: MARK ALLATIN AR1: MATTHEW OSTERHOUSE AR2: FRANCESCO TERRANOVA 4TH: MADZID CORIC
How to Watch: ESPN+ (Subscription Required)
What to expect: This is a special match for the USL because it’ll be the only match Friday night and there’s multiple interesting storylines in play for both of these teams. So rather than doing the typical pregame rundown, I thought I’d bring everyone up to speed on the important things to consider during Friday’s match.
Tampa Bay’s Storylines:
- Marcel Schafer’s last match- The big draw for Friday’s match for the Rowdies faithful is that it’ll be the last match for Marcel Schafer before he heads off to take a front office position with his previous team VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. So it’s not quite a testimonial, but it’s pretty close. The Rowdies have had a few weeks to prepare for this, so expect the commentators to focus on it pretty heavily and there will almost certainly be some tifo and signage on display in Al Lang Stadium. There’s also the possibility that they may try and keep him in a more offensive position during the match in the hopes of getting him a goal during his send off.
- Roster craziness- Shortly after Tampa Bay exited the US Open Cup against NPSL side the Jacksonville Armada, they parted ways with their head coach Stuart Campbell. In his place, they went with their very own veteran defender Neill Collins who retired from playing to take the position. Just after that, it was announced that Joe Cole would become a player/coach effective immediately. So while he can still play, his role on the field could be diminished. And just to throw out a few more changes, just this week the Rowdies announced that Jack Blake would be going out on loan to Real Monarchs and they had signed Dominic Oduro of the PDL and Afrim Taku out of the Albanian Superliga.
- Revenge!- The Tampa Bay faithful were not pleased when they lost 3-0 when they visited Penn FC in May. This was during that period where the Rowdies simply couldn’t win on the road, and it was one of the last couple of straws to break the camel’s back, so to speak. Now they get to welcome Penn FC to the fortress of Al Lang Stadium where they have yet to lose in 2018 and where they beat the Harrisburg City Islanders by a 3-0 scoreline last season. They’re probably looking for some payback.
Penn FC’s Storylines:
- The return of Raoul Voss- Before Raoul Voss took the reins at Penn FC, he was an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Rowdies who many fans were apparently quite fond of. They seemed disappointed to watch him go and even more disappointed when he defeated them in their first meeting this season. So it’ll be interesting to see what approach Voss will take when he returns to his old stomping grounds, especially now that he’ll be coaching against one of his former players.
- Familiar faces from the NASL days- The Penn FC roster was filled out with several NASL veterans who were looking for new teams in 2018 for obvious reasons. Three of the players, Tommy Heinemann, Richard Menjivar, and Lucky Mkosana have previous experience playing with the Rowdies as recently as 2016. And there are a host of other players who faced off against the Rowdies in the NASL days. There’s Romu Peiser (Ottawa Fury), Aaron Dennis (Miami FC), Pedro Galvao (FC Edmonton), and even Paulo Jr. (Ottawa Fury/Fort Lauderdale Strikers) who signed with Penn FC just this week.
- A clean sweep- The Harrisburg City Islanders dropped both of their matches against the Rowdies last season by a combined 6-2 scoreline. So getting that win at home earlier in the season was a big confidence booster. If they can go down to St. Pete and pull out another upset, it’d be enough to boost them close to a playoff spot while simultaneously throwing Tampa Bay’s season into even further disarray. Remember, the Rowdies haven’t lost at Al Lang since changing coaches, but they also haven’t won there under Neill Collins yet.
PREDICTION: There’s so many elements in play on Friday night that a prediction seems a little futile. Tampa Bay’s home field advantage will be amplified by the fans turning out to see off Marcel Schafer, but Raoul Voss should have his new team well prepared to face his old team. This one could really go either way, so I think the most likely outcome is just a 1-1 draw.