A major match lies ahead on Sunday for the Cosmos as the Tampa Bay Rowdies travel to Shuart to continue a rivalry that’s spanned decades. With the Cosmos’ stronger home performances and the Rowdies’ difficulty in scoring all season, the boys in green will need to capitalize on this opportunity to stay in the hunt for the spring season with a very congested schedule ahead.
The Rowdies arrive at Shuart with a 2-3-1 record so far in 2016. With only five goals permitted, they have kept their opponents to a goal or less in five of their six games, posting three shutouts.
On the flip side, they aren’t scoring much either, with five goals scored, being shut out one time. Additionally, one of the goals came on a penalty kick and, last week against Rayo OKC, an own goal helped them salvage a point.
There are some very potent pieces on the Rowdies squad. In the back, goalkeeper Matt Pickens easily belongs on the shortlist for best keepers in the league. Despite clumsy mistakes that led up to a goal being scored last week, he’s consistently a strong, capable keeper and a major reason their goals allowed number has stayed so low.
On the back line, a very stable center back pairing of Tamika Mkandawire and Neill Collins has been crucial for the Rowdies. With “Tam” being an incredibly dependable part of the back line last season, Collins was an upgrade for the other spot and, defensively, the numbers support the argument. Also, be wary of Darnell King whose defensive prowess is notable and makes dangerous offensive contributions.
The strength of the Rowdies, and the first obstacle the Cosmos will have have to overcome, is their midfield. Excellent options abound. On the defensive side of things, Juan Guerra and Michael Nanchoff were solid options up until Nanchoff was forced to be moved by the arrival of Joe Cole who notably upgraded several parts of the team upon his first appearance last week.
On the offensive end, plenty of options are available to the Rowdies. Kalif Alhassan, while not as consistent as last season, is still a dangerous part of this equation. Eric Avila is certainly a player the Cosmos will have to mind and coming off the bench, look out for players like the experienced Georgi Hristov and the young, but very talented Darwin Espinal.
The demonstrably weakest part of the Rowdies lies with its corps of forwards. Tom Heinemann, with the Ottawa Fury last year, scored two goals against the Cosmos in the final. Since then, and since joining Tampa Bay, the guns have fallen silent as he’s mustered one goal and two chances in his six matches, five of them starts. Danny Mwanga, an ex-Cosmos, has not looked much better with him getting the start last week and then getting pulled in the 65′.
Lastly, but worth noting, the Rowdies have not won a match in New York since the reboot with the Cosmos in possession of a 3-1-0 record. This may be minor, but something still worth noting when discussing their trips up here.
The Cosmos can expect a battle in the midfield and I’d hope to see them continue with the 4-1-4-1 to combat an expected 4-2-3-1 from the Rowdies. The wings will be vital here as players like Yohandry Orozco and Jairo Arrieta will be relied upon heavily to break down the defenses while Niko Kranjčar and Juan Arango will be called upon to expose weaknesses and create chances for them to finish.
Expect a tough match in this one. Also, expect the Cosmos to edge the Rowdies 2-1.