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How teamwork is making the dream work for Rowdies’ Cal Jennings

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/11/23, 9:05AM EDT


Tampa Bay striker’s double against LouCity powered key victory, showed a team on the same wavelength in attack

The Tampa Bay Rowdies' Cal Jennings turns home the game-winning goal in his side's 2-1 win against Louisville City FC, his sixth goal in the past five games for the Rowdies. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

If there’s one thing to know about the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Cal Jennings, it’s this.

When he gets on a roll, it’s hard to stop him.

And right now, he’s proving very hard for opposing defenses to stop.

The 26-year-old’s performance on Saturday night lifted Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory against rival Louisville City FC at Al Lang Stadium, keeping the side in position to claim the top spot in the Eastern Conference at the end of the campaign, as his movement and finishing delivered a pair of outstanding goals that proved the difference in the game.

For Jennings, it marked the fifth consecutive appearance in which he’s found the net, with his six goals over that span moving him into the team lead with an individual single season-high 14 this season.

The key to that success? Jennings is entirely on the same wavelength as his teammates, with the timing of his movement and their passes working in perfect synchronization.

“I think a lot of goalscorers will speak to this – it’s all about rhythm and confidence,” said Jennings. “Once you get going and once you get it rolling, the belief grows, not only in yourself but your teammates as well. I was set up extremely well by Jake [Areman] a couple of times today, Aaron [Guillen] played me a good ball, and even a couple others, Forrest [Lasso] hit a great ball in behind, and we’re continuing to get more and more service. I’m very thankful.”

Aaron Guillen’s first-half dime provided the opening goal of the night for the Rowdies against Louisville, a beautiful 55-yard ball that allowed Jennings to split the gap between his marker and LouCity goalkeeper Oliver Semmle as he came to challenge outside his penalty area. A sharp first touch took Jennings away from both and allowed a finish into the open net.

Jennings’ second of the night, meanwhile, was a textbook piece of forward play. As his teammates worked possession to the left flank for Jake Areman, Jennings made his move, darting in front of a LouCity defender at the near post to meet the cross with a deft first-time finish that put the ball into the right corner of the net.

Following in the footsteps of great former Rowdies strikers Georgi Hristov and Sebastian Guenzatti, the club’s fans have a new forward who looks capable of filling their sizeable shoes.

“It seems like Cal is guaranteed to score every time he steps on the pitch now,” said Rowdies assistant coach Stuart Dobson. “It’s just a matter of going out and working hard and the chances will come. Not many chances will come against a team like Louisville, so Cal took his chances superbly.”

Jennings has scored in clusters like this before. Rowdies fans will remember his run of six goals in three games earlier this season that included a hat trick against Oakland Roots SC in July, while Jennings first made his presence felt in the league with a run of eight goals in four games for Memphis 901 FC late in the 2020 season. Those runs have contributed to a remarkable 45 goals in 84 appearances in the Championship’s regular season at a strike rate of a goal every 131.3 minutes.

This current run, though, marks the longest run of consecutive games in which he has found the mark, and bodes well for Tampa Bay’s chances not only in closing out a tough end-of-season schedule with enough points to secure the Players’ Shield, but for the postseason to come.

“Three points anytime is in the season, especially now is huge,” said Jennings. “Especially as we’re chasing home games in the playoffs, chasing the top team in the East, in the league, and against a team that… these games are always fun to watch.

“I remember tuning in for some Rowdies-Louisville games in the past and I knew there was going to be a hard-fought competition. So, the three points are massive. The response is massive. And we got another tough one coming up on the weekend [at San Antonio FC]. So, we got to prepare for that.”

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