Three Things: Pittsburgh 1 - 1 Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (July 15, 2019) - The Tampa Bay Rowdies fought hard Saturday night to earn a draw Saturday night against a tricky Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC team on the road. The Rowdies trailed for most of the second half but leveled the match with six minutes left to play.
Here's Three Things from the match...
1. Avoiding defeat
The weekend schedule for the USL Championship's Eastern Conference featured all of the top four teams venturing out onto the road. Even though the contenders were away from home, the matchups looked mostly favorable on paper. The Rowdies were certainly weary of a difficult Riverhounds side which came into the match in eighth, but No. 2 Indy (at No. 18 Hartford), No. 3 New York (at No. 15 Atlanta) and No. 4 North Carolina (at No. 16 Birmingham) all had easy enough matchups on paper.
As it turned out, the standings weren't a great predictor for this wild weekend though as New York was the only team in the East's top nine to actually win. Indy lost 2-1 in Hartford and North Carolina lost 1-0 in Birmingham, proving again just how deep the East is. New York's 8-1 win over Atlanta was the outlier.
Tampa Bay may have gone into the match hoping for a win, but a road point in Pittsburgh is always a good result. Avoiding defeat on this weekend of all weekends, makes the draw look even better. The Riverhounds had won four of their previous matches by a combined score of 13-1. They looked like the better side for much of Saturday's contest, but the Rowdies hung tough and gutted out a result.
2. No fun in Pittsburgh
Highmark Stadium on the banks of the Monongahela River with the Pittsburgh skyline just opposite is a beautiful venue. It is, objectively, a great place to watch and play soccer.
That said, the Rowdies do not enjoy going there.
Tampa Bay went into Saturday's match with a record of 0-2-1 at Highmark Stadium all-time. It's the site of some of the worst Rowdies performances in recent memory, like a mind-numbing 1-0 loss on a stoppage time goal in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup to miss out on hosting D.C. United in the next round.
The first half of Saturday night's match did not look like one that would end in the Rowdies getting a result. Playing on artificial turf on a field much smaller than that at Al Lang Stadium, Tampa Bay was not coping well.
The Rowdies were under pressure for most of the half and were unable to string passes together, ultimately opting to just kick the ball deep and try to win second balls. Tampa Bay completed only 52 percent of its pass attempts in the first half and Pittsburgh had more than 60 percent of the possession.
Whatever Head Coach Neill Collins said to the team at halftime seemed to work as the Rowdies completed 74 percent of their passes after halftime and had 54 percent possession. Ultimately, the Rowdies escaped with a well-earned point and maybe a little more confidence for their next visit to the banks of the Monongahela.
3. Heavily penalized
After opening the season with nine clean sheets in 13 matches, the Rowdies have now conceded a goal in each of their last six matches. Dig a little deeper though and it appears the defense is playing just as well as it did in the first few months of the season.
In the last six games, three potential clean sheets have been broken up by a penalty kick awarded to the opposition and a fourth was broken by a free kick in the 88th minute. Take away those four dead ball situations and the Rowdies have only conceded in two of the last six matches. Ottawa's lone goal came from a bad defensive mistake from Pape Diakite that shouldn't happen again, so scrape that one from the record and the Rowdies have only really been beaten defensively in one of those matches, albeit a 3-1 loss in which North Carolina cut the Rowdies apart a little bit.
Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work like that and the Rowdies will have to clean up their actions in the 18-yard box to try and put an end to the penalty kicks. Tarek Morad, Malik Johnson and Pape Diakite have all been whistled for the fouls to concede the penalties, so it's not just one repeat offender.
It could also be argued that none of the three decisions were clear cut penalties, so maybe a little luck would help the Rowdies as well.
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