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 Tampa Bay Rowdies

Match Preview: Rowdies at North Carolina

March 22, 2024 - United Soccer League Championship (USL)
Tampa Bay Rowdies News Release


Tampa Bay Rowdies (1 pt, 9th East) at North Carolina FC (1 pt, 11th East)

Saturday, March 23, 7 p.m. ET

WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC

Colony Grill Watch Party: Watch with us at the official watch party at Colony Grill in downtown St. Petersburg. Fans in Rowdies gear receive discounts and prizes. Learn more.

Tune In: Fans can stream the match on ESPN+.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies face their first road test of the new season this Saturday as they head to a familiar setting to battle North Carolina FC, who return to the USL Championship after several seasons in USL League One. The two sides have met 27 times before in regular season play, including matchups when North Carolina was known as the Carolina Railhawks. North Carolina holds the edge in the all-time regular season series with the Rowdies claiming 7 wins and 8 draws.

Last year, the Rowdies took home 25 points in the matches away from Tampa Bay. First-year head coach Robbie Neilson will look to improve upon that number this season. To do that, maintaining consistency in philosophy and style will be key for the Rowdies.

"It's important we try to implement the way we want to play rather than reacting to how the opposition plays," ssid Neilson. "That'll be the case on Saturday. We worked all the way through preseason on how we want to play. It's important to do that at Al Lang but also when we step out onto any other pitch."

The amount of travel involved during the USL Championship season will be an adjustment for Neilson, who has only coached in Scotland and England prior to this season. Tampa Bay to North Carolina is relatively one of the shorter trips the Rowdies have on their docket, but the nearly 700 miles is still quite a bit more than most trips for a team based in the UK.

"The travel here is something that appealed to me," said Neilson. "To face different teams with different styles in different venues, different climates even, it's a challenge I'm really looking forward to. I've heard the pitch in North Carolina is top level. It's a big green pitch with proper lines on it, so it's about us going and implementing our style of play.

Club Connections

Two of Tampa Bay's center backs have ties to Saturday's opponent and the North Carolina area. Three-time USL Defender of the Year Forrest Lasso is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina and led Broughton High School to three conference championships. Additionally, Rowdies captain Aaron Guillen spent two seasons with NCFC. Current NCFC head coach John Bradford was an assistant coach on staff at the time.

Niyongabire on International Duty

Rowdies wingback Pacifique Niyongabire will Saturday's contest after being called up to represent Burundi in a pair of friendlies. Niyongabire earned a spot on the bench of the USL Championship Team of the Week after notching an assist in his Rowdies debut against San Antonio.

Cal's Strike Rate

Cal Jennings bagged the first goal of the 2024 season last week. It was his 20th goal for the Rowdies and his 51st USL Championship regular season goal. Jennings' strike rate of one goal every 127.7 minutes of play ranks best among active players with 50 or more regular season goals.

Controlling the Game

The Rowdies had all three points in their sights in last week's season opener but conceded twice in the final ten minutes to finish with just a point. Full focus for all 90 minutes will be the goal for the squad this Saturday in North Carolina.

"It's important to keep building on the things we've been working on the last few months," said Neilson. "A key part of that is controlling the game a bit more. Last week against San Antonio was an entertaining game, but it was quite open, quite erratic, end-to-end. We want to try and control the ball a bit more than we did."

Injury Report:

OUT: Nick Moon, Zach Herivaux, Charlie Dennis, Zane Bubb

QUESTIONABLE: Freddy Kleemann

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United Soccer League Championship Stories from March 22, 2024

The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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