We’re in the endgame now. And The Miami FC, with their ticket to the playoffs already punched with a controversial 0-0 draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, are now fighting for a chance to host a playoff match at FIU Stadium in November.
The path to the second seed, however, has narrowed. A stunning loss to Loudoun United a couple weeks ago may come back to haunt Miami FC (14-8-7, 49 pts). But they still have a slight chance to finish in second if they can finish the season strong and hope that Charlotte and Pittsburgh slip up in the home stretch.
But first, the boys in Blue and Orange will need to find a way to defeat a familiar foe on the road: the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The two rivals will clash for the fourth and final time this season on Wednesday night at Al Lang Stadium. The boys in Blue and Orange will need to find a way to travel back down I-75 with three points in tow to keep those hopes alive.
Know Your Enemy: Tampa Bay Rowdies
After a midseason malaise, the Tampa Bay Rowdies (20-7-2, 62 pts) have played some of their best soccer recently. They found another gear and went on a stunning 12-game unbeaten streak in August and September. That stretch included a string of nine consecutive victories, helping Tampa leave the rest of the division in the dust.
Now that they have secured the Atlantic Division crown, they will be seeking some revenge after Miami dealt them back-to-back losses at FIU Stadium back in July.
Forward Sebastián Guenzatti was voted the USL Championship’s Player of the Month for September and has been the focal point of Tampa Bay’s potent attack, tallying 19 goals so far this season, second in the USL Championship only behind Colorado Springs’s Hadji Barry (25).
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s defense–spearheaded by defender Forrest Lasso and Aarón Guillén–has suffocated opposing offenses all season long. They’ve allowed the fewest goals in the league (22) with teams averaging less than a goal per game (0.75) against them.
That’s a big reason why goalkeeper Evan Louro, with 56 saves this season, has the most clean sheets (13) in the league.
Keys To A Victory for The Miami FC
Keep an eye on recently acquired forward Chris Cortez for Miami FC. In his debut against Loudoun on Oct. 10, he came in as a second half sub and scored a header to briefly give Miami the lead. He also came on as a late sub again against Pittsburgh. It’s clear that Head Coach Paul Daglish wants to utilize his skills as an attacker who can win headers and go toe-to-toe with defenders in the box.
Miami’s defense will need to zero in on Guenzatti and keep him away from goalkeeper Connor Sparrow, who has 90 saves so far this season (the fourth most in the Championship). And they will have to do it without help from defender Callum-Chapman Page, who has accumulated one too many cautions.
In both of Miami’s wins over Tampa, a fast start was pivotal. They jumped out to a 1-0 and 2-0 leads at halftime in both of those matches. And a quick start could be a shot in the arm for a club looking for a spark.
Tampa Bay has been almost unbeatable at home. They’ve won 12 of their 15 matches played at Al Lang Stadium so far this season. After an inexplicable loss to Loudoun and earning a draw thanks to a terrible error by the referees against Pittsburgh, Miami appears to be catching Tampa Bay at just the wrong time.
Tampa Bay Rowdies 2 – Miami FC 1
WHO: Miami FC (14-8-7, 49 pts) vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies (20-7-2, 62 pts)
WHEN: Wednesday, October 20 | 7:30 pm EST
WHERE: Al Lang Stadium (St. Petersburg, FL)
- Miami FC – Suspended: Callum Chapman-Page; Caution Accumulation Warning: Junior Palacios
- Tampa Bay Rowdies – None