Three Things: Rowdies 5 - 0 Memphis
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Rowdies took a positive step Saturday night, beating Memphis 901 FC 5-0 to move up one spot to second place in the USL Championship's Eastern Conference.
Here's Three Things from the match...
1. Poku Power
Since breaking into the lineup as a regular started in late May, midfielder Kwadwo Poku has been an absolute force. It seems like Poku will put in a 9/10 performance or better just about every week, yet he still seemed to sail under the radars without many plaudits. While playing well, he wasn't filling the stat sheet up with no goals and three assists from 837 minutes of play going into Saturday night.
His performance Saturday night will finally get him the attention he deserves. Poku scored in the 11th and 62nd minutes to lead the Rowdies to victory, but he also did all the things that rarely get noticed, just with some end product this time.
"I'm so pleased for Poku," Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins said. "I think he's been excellent in the last three or four months. I think he's been really, really good and I'll be honest and say the only thing to take away from his performances is that he's not notched a couple of goals. He did tonight and I hope he does between now and the end of the season because that's what really brings the praise to his all-around performances."
It's more than just the goals, though. Poku completed a game-high 92.5 percent of his passes. Of his 40 connections, 32 were in the opposition half and those were completed at a 96.9 percent clip. He completed all eight of his long passes. All three shots he attempted were on target. The only cross he attempted was completed. He created two chances. He won 60 percent of his duels overall and 100 percent of his aerial duels. He routinely dribbled around Memphis midfielders before finding a teammate with a perfect pass.
It was the Poku show from start to finish. When he's on - and he has been for the last few months - he's almost impossible to handle. It seems likely that he'll receive his first Team of the Week recognition of the year Tuesday, with Player of the Week not too farfetched.
2. Johnson excels again
If not for Poku, Malik Johnson would have taken all the headlines from this match after scoring a goal and adding two assists in yet another spectacular performance.
Memphis took the field in a 3-5-2 to counteract the Rowdies usual 3-5-2, with forward Pierre Da Silva taking the left wingback spot opposite Johnson, a forward himself. Johnson got the better of that matchup by miles, regularly gliding past Da Silva in the box to create a dangerous situation.
It's easy to forget sometimes that Johnson just turned 21 in April and is living away from home for the first time. He seems such a natural in the wingback spot and provides yet another threat for opposition defenses to worry about.
Put yourself into the shoes of Memphis coach Tim Mulqueen. You're facing an attack that boasts Golden Boot candidate Sebastian Guenzatti (13 goals) alongside high-energy Juan Tejada (eight goals) on the front line. Kwadwo Poku (two goals, three assists) and Andrew Tinari (four goals, five assists) can score or create goals at high frequency and the wings are occupied by Leo Fernandes (four goals, six assists) and Malik Johnson (three goals, five assists), not to mention all the star power on the bench and injury list.
If the Rowdies can settle into a groove with this lineup and continue to grow together, the stretch run of the season should be entertaining indeed.
3. McCarthy returns
Rowdies goalkeeper John McCarthy made his return to action Saturday night after missing more than a month due to a leg injury suffered late in a win over Saint Louis FC on July 20. After such a long layoff with game action, McCarthy was probably hoping for a calm, relaxed return to the field.
He probably didn't anticipate keeping his 10th clean sheet of the season without making a single save. Memphis recorded just one shot in the match, but it was off target.
It's not the first time this season McCarthy has kept a zero save clean sheet. He did the same against Pittsburgh on March 16 and against Swope Park on May 25.
It's a bit of puzzle how exactly that happened given that Memphis had 52 percent possession and completed more passes than the Rowdies. It was just one of those nights where Tampa Bay was untouchable and Memphis was not at its best.
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