Similar to the Seattle Sounders, the Tampa Bay Rowdies harken back to the high-flying era of the original NASL. As happened here they started in a lower division, but have ambitions to be great. There are some differences; the Rowdies' uniforms are throwbacks; they play in a converted baseball stadium; and they are in a league that in some ways is trying to compete with MLS.
The two sides have a history from about thirty plus years ago that will be renewed tonight. That's part of what makes the US Open Cup the special thing it is. There is history buried in the lower divisions. This midweek knockout tournament helps pull it right back into the light of day. Wednesday night echoes of history will be on the pitch as well as many players with ambitions for the Cup to help propel their career.
Wednesday's Open Cup match is not against a plucky amateur side. It is instead a contest versus a mid-table team from the division of US soccer just below MLS on their home turf. It is a cup match that screams for an upset and one that Sounders fans, players and coaches must take seriously.
Helping us preview the match via Three Questions is Rowdies afficiando ReasonableDoubt
SaH: Tampa's attack seems pretty Georgi Hristov powered. How do the Rowdies get him in positions to score?
RD: Georgi Hristov is the finisher of the squad, and he's benefited from a large amount of supply from the midfield. He provides a finishing touch that the forwards lacked early in pre-season, as our top scorer has been sidelined with an MCL injury. If Hristov is provided the through balls he needs, he's deadly accurate, ans his four goals in the past two games proves it. He's not the tallest on the pitch, but his speed provides a breakaway threat on the counter. As important as Hristov is, however, playmaker Luke Mulholland has provided most of the spark in midfield. If he's given free space to run, Hristov gets his supply and creates havoc for Seattle.
SaH: There are two Puget Sound linked players in Raphael Cox and Daniel Scott. How do they contribute to the club?
RD: Raphael Cox was Player of the Week for the NASL in Week 2, due to his impressive work on the left wing against the San Antonio Scorpions. He provides a speed threat on the counter, but still has issues tracking back on defense. He's significantly more effective in midfield than at left back, where he filled in earlier this year. Scott has proven to be a solid defensive addition since his days captaining the Kitsap Pumas to the PDL title. He was used mostly as a back-up last year as he learned the system, but has proven to be adept at closing down some of the NASL's best finishers.
SaH: Does Al Lang Stadium play in a unique fashion since it is a converted baseball stadium?
RD: Al Lang Stadium is obviously unique as it is still a baseball stadium in the off-season, with a few different national teams calling it home in February. The sideline opens up onto the bay, which creates a strange wind swirl. The ball will either barely stay in bounds or go dramatically off-course on goal kicks, and the transition from grass to grass-on-newly-covered dirt disrupts ball movement. Expect free kicks on the bay side to end up as home runs over the outfield wall, because the wind will carry them much further than the player wants. This becomes even more complicated by the expected 90 degree weather, high humidity, and rain expected Wednesday night. It will become a crosser's nightmare as the wings will create for slow breakaways, and the crosses will not go as aimed.
Significant injuries: Carl Cort, of Newcastle legend, tweaked a hamstring against VSI in the 2nd round of the Cup, and may not play. Takuya Yamada, the four-year Rowdies veteran, was left off the Open Cup Squad as he is a foreign player who was in Tokyo during round 2 for a testimonial match. Frankie Sanfilippo, the team captain, pulled a hamstring against VSI and did not play this past weekend against Minnesota, but should return Wednesday.
Projected Lineup: Restrepo, Arango, Scott, Sanfilippo, Gafa, Savage, Campbell, Mulholland, Cox, Walker, Hristov
SaH: It's tough to answer because Seattle rotated so many into their starting lineup this year. Injuries and international duty have led players like Lamar Neagle and Alex Caskey to play more minutes than one would expect when the season starts. Combine that with Honduran international Mario Martinez (you may remember him from the Olympics), Marcus Hahnemann (USMNT vet) and possible appearances by Steve Zakuani and Osvaldo Alonso (due to health) and Shalrie Joseph (since he got a Red in the LA match and can't play against Chivas) it will be a decent mix of First Teamers, known subs and squad depth. The deepest elements of the roster will be on the bench, but not starting. Sigi Schmid is not going to risk his undefeated in USOC with Sounders record due to lineup choices.
RD: Los Angeles pounded away at Seattle after some questionable goalkeeping from Michael Gspurning. How will that translate into Wednesday's game, given Gspurning's quote to newspapers that the team needs to "Sit and talk about this?"
SaH: Marcus Hahnemann will almost certainly start. He's a more vocal leader of the backline than Gspurning, but is less agile and prone to English style long balls. He's still good. Considering that his playing time is fully dependent on a deep Open Cup run he will be quite motivated. It is also something he has not won with the Sounders. Back in the 90s he won a league title with Seattle, but his journey to Colorado and England left him out of the Sounders runs to four straight Open Cup finals. Gspurning is more a soccer player that is a keeper, while Hahnemann is an old school goalkeeper who plays soccer.
RD: Steve Zakuani is probably the biggest wing threat against a team that is vulnerable to crosses. Is his groin healthy enough to survive 90+ minutes on a field that is partially made of grass that hasn't fully grown in yet?
SaH: His injury lasted longer than expected and it is unlikely that he joins the team down in St. Pete. If he does his game is built on speed and shooting rather than crosses from the wing. The crosses from the wing are almost certain to come from Martinez. He's left footed, but is more comfortable out on the right. He does not have the crossing ability of Rosales, but can serve it well and also adds a strong shot from distance. His youth history on fields in Central America should actually help him adapt quickly to Al Lang. The rest of the team will have to lean on their CCL Group Stage history and learn quickly.
Significant Injuries: Alonso and Zakuani still may be injured. Fairclough has an adductor issue which likely means that one of Hurtado and Traore start the midweek match.
Projected Lineup: Hahnemann; Burch, so
Ianni is suspended Hurtado, Scott; Carrasco; Caskey, Rose, Martinez; Neagle, Estrada