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What to watch for as Miami FC plays host to undefeated Tampa Bay Rowdies

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 04/10/24, 5:55PM EDT


Tampa Bay looks to keep pace with Eastern Conference frontrunners, Miami needs improvement on defensive set pieces

The Tampa Bay Rowdies' Blake Bodily has made a positive impact on his new club since joining this offseason. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Florida rivals Miami FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies will square off for the first time this season on Thursday night as Miami plays its first game this campaign at FIU Soccer Stadium at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

With the Rowdies looking to continue their undefeated run – and Miami aiming for their first win in the series in just over two calendar years – here are three storylines we’re keeping a close eye on.


How the Tampa Bay Rowdies have started the 2024 USL Championship season depends on your perspective.

Through four games, the side is undefeated with a win and three draws. That’s far better than the start the side made a season ago when it had just two points from its first four games before finally securing its first victory against Miami as goals by Felix Schröter and Cal Jennings earned a 2-0 win at Al Lang Stadium.

At the same time, the Rowdies know they need to get going and stay close to the early front-runners, with the Charleston Battery, Detroit City FC and Louisville City FC having all picked up 12 points so far.

“Tying too much is never a good thing,” said Rowdies midfielder Blake Bodily. “If you get two wins, it’s better than one win and two ties. So, we need to find more ways to create chances, score more goals, and also not concede late in the game. If we do that, I think it’ll ultimately end up with more wins and a more favorable position for us.”


By the numbers, Miami was officially the worst side in the USL Championship a season ago at defending corner kicks, conceding a league-high nine goals among 18 goals allowed from set pieces overall in the 2023 campaign.

Despite all the changes that have occurred for the side under new Head Coach Antonio Nocerino, that hasn’t changed yet. Miami has allowed three goals from corner kicks so far this season, with Hartford Athletic’s Romario Williams the latest to finish last Saturday in his side’s 3-2 victory against Miami at Trinity Health Stadium.

By contrast, the Rowdies have already been getting back to basics with their set pieces, which earned the side only 10 of their 60 goals a season ago. Tampa Bay has recorded three of its seven goals from set pieces so far, including two from corner kicks. With Blake Bodily joining Lewis Hilton as an option to provide service, Miami could be under pressure to avoid conceding set pieces in its defensive third as it tries to end a run of four games without a win.


The Tampa Bay Rowdies had numerous impact newcomers a season ago with Cal Jennings leading the side with 19 goals – including scoring in both of the side’s victories against Miami – and JJ Williams acting as a perfect foil as the side’s No. 9 before his offseason transfer to Rhode Island FC.

The most valuable member newcomer, however, might have been Charlie Dennis, who joined Jennings on the Championship’s All-League First Team as he recorded 11 goals and three assists in 35 appearances. The English midfielder has yet to make an appearance this season due to injury but seems to be moving closer to getting on the field for the first time. A start is likely out of the question, but getting Dennis back into the gameday roster and potentially minutes is something that would make Rowdies supporters happy.

“I think getting more guys back is huge,” said Neilson. “You can see at the start of the season we were a bit light in the squad. Last week in Pittsburgh and in our last home game, you can see the difference being able to bring on experience and quality can make. We want competition in the squad.”

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