Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins welcomes forward Felix Schröter off the field after the German's first goal for the club against Miami FC on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
You could see it in the smile of Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins as he went through the postgame handshakes with club Chief Operating Officer Ryan Helfrick and Head of Soccer Operations Nico Castillo.
That was much closer to the performance he had been looking for this season.
The Rowdies’ 2-0 victory against Miami FC on Saturday night before an enthusiastic crowd at Al Lang Stadium not only gave the side its first win of the regular season, but also got the team back to the fundamentals that have made it a contender during Collins’ time at the helm.
“It was a tough team selection, because obviously, there’s not been a lot of guys that are at their best,” said Collins. “But the players that got the jerseys, I thought, took advantage of that and put in good performances. Then, as we expect, the guys that came on really then added to that and helped us get the three points. People like Charlie [Dennis], JJ [Williams], Forrest [Lasso], Sebastian [Dalgaard], they all came on and carried on and that’s what we needed.”
It wasn’t dominant, but it didn’t need to be against a Miami side that has seen its own struggles to start the season.
Instead, it was clinical.
Felix Schröter’s first goal in Rowdies colors was the culmination of a simple move that saw Lewis Hilton find Conner Antley in space on the right to deliver an inch-perfect cross through the six-yard area where the German was waiting to tap home unmarked.
“You mostly think about how you’re going to score your first goal, and then it’s just ‘yeah, probably from 25 meters, top corner,’” said Schröter. “But even if it’s an easy tap-in it’s always something special to score your first goal for a new club.”
Early in the second half it was Jennings’ turn with a flicked header off Hilton’s corner kick – the 30th career assist for the veteran midfielder – that picked out the bottom-right corner of the net.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies' Cal Jennings celebrates his second-half goal, his first for his new club, which helped pave the way to victory against Miami FC. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
“Lewis played a great ball in,” said Jennings. “Perfect height. And my job was just to make good contact and once I got the flick on, I saw it going to the back post and I knew. I was like ‘alright, this one's going in,’ so I’ll take it.”
After JJ Williams opened his account earlier in the week in the Rowdies’ victory against NONA FC in the Second Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, it was a good week for the new arrivals to the club’s attacking corps. After early season delays and misfires, the positive chemistry is a major point to build on.
“We’ve obviously had to give [Schröter] time [due to visa delays and injury],” said Collins. “Cal Jennings in a different environment and a new style. I think he’s worked ever so hard, but again, he’s relying on some of the service, so I think it’s multiple things, but I just thought the group as a whole tonight looked much more cohesive, and because of that everyone as an individual was able to show much more what they were about.”
The Rowdies will get the chance to kick on from their success quickly. On Wednesday night they face a return fixture against the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Stadium that promises to be must-see. After Charleston jumped the Rowdies’ early on the way to a 3-0 victory at Patriots Point on March 25, the Rowdies will be looking to turn the tables and hand the last undefeated team in the Eastern Conference its first setback.
Judging from the smiles on Saturday night, the Rowdies’ ship is now pointed on the right course for success.
“We’re going to take away one game at a time,” said Jennings. “We know this is a great win against a rival team and now we’re looking towards Charleston to build off of that, but I think we have a great team and if we play up to our potential this could be an incredible year.”