Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies finished tied for the Eastern Conference-lead with 11 home victories in the 2017 USL regular season, and after adding another win at Al Lang Stadium this past Saturday thanks to a 3-0 victory against FC Cincinnati to open the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs the side is looking forward to remaining in its fortress when the defending USL Cup champion New York Red Bulls II come to visit in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET | Preview).
As well as the team has performed at Al Lang Stadium, Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell believed the support the side has received this year has been a factor in the team’s success at Al Lang Stadium. Another crowd of more than 6,000 fans was on hand for the clash with Cincinnati, after the Rowdies finished the regular season in the top 10 nationally among clubs outside Major League Soccer.
“The fans have been a big, big part of why we’ve got a fantastic home record,” said Campbell. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence. You look at the atmosphere they generate, we’ve got a very knowledgeable set of supporters. They know when we need a little bit of help and they get right behind us and cheer us on. A couple of times this year they’ve dragged us over the line.”
The Rowdies’ got a pair of goals from former German international Marcel Schäfer in this past Saturday’s contest, the second time the 33-year-old midfielder had achieved that feat in his first season at the club. Better known for his playmaking – he finished tied for second in the USL with 11 assists in the regular season – Schäfer also notched a brace in the last meeting between the Rowdies and the Red Bulls II on Oct. 4, when Tampa Bay claimed a 3-2 victory.
With New York having earned a 4-2 victory in the first meeting between the teams at MSU Soccer Park, and coming off a 4-0 victory against the No. 2-seed Charleston Battery last Saturday, Campbell is well aware of the test the Red Bulls II will bring to the Rowdies’ home record and USL Cup aspirations.
“We only played them a couple of weeks ago, and it was a very exciting game,” said Campbell. “Obviously, we won 3-2, but I think both teams created numerous chances. They’re the defending champions of the USL, so they’re not going to give up their title easy, so we know it's going to be a really, really tough game for us.”
With another strong crowd expected, the Rowdies are hoping to rise to the occasion one more time.