Our final Atlantic Division foe to preview is the first one we’ll see when the season kicks off Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The Rowdies got off to a flying start to their season with a 3-0 victory over Charlotte Independence, and the reigning Eastern Conference champs might have as good a chance as anyone to claim that title in 2021. The team went 10-3-3 a season ago, and their +14 goal difference was third in the East behind only the Hounds and Louisville.
Since the installation of Neill Collins as head coach midway through the 2018 season, Tampa Bay has trended steadily upward, and the group he retains leads one to believe the club will battle to be at the top once again.
The backbone of the Rowdies remains mostly intact with defender Forrest Lasso, a Hounds nemesis previously in Charleston and Cincinnati, coming off a USL Championship Defender of the Year season. Goalkeeper Evan Louro also is coming off a career year, and team captain Sebastian Guenzatti returns off a 10-goal total in the shortened 2020 season.
A familiar face to Hounds fans, Steevan Dos Santos, was the team’s biggest offseason acquisition — literally and figuratively — but midfielder Laurence Wyke also will be a major addition to the side.
As the trendy pick to remain atop the East, the Rowdies will be a tough assignment for the Hounds to deal with in their season opener when the teams play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Hounds have yet to win at the Rowdies’ home, going 0-1-2 there, while the club also has yet to beat them under Bob Lilley in four meetings, drawing three of the four.
But as with all their division foes, the Hounds will get plenty of cracks at Tampa Bay, meeting again in the Sunshine State on June 19 before hosting them at Highmark Stadium on Aug. 18 and Oct. 10.