Monday, June 29, 2009

Rowdies Lose Grudge Match, 6/23/79

Near the midway point of the 1979 season, the Tampa Bay Rowdies had every reason to become complacent. The Rowdies, winners of four straight and nine in a row at home, sat atop the NASL's American Conference with 109 points and a league-best 13-4 record.
Yet despite the presence of a British film crew in town to document a portion of their season, the Rowdies made a move unprecedented in their five-year history: an entirely closed practice. No parties were spared: media, family members, fans, kids from the "Camp Kickinthegrass." All were considered persona non grata as the team geared up for a June 23, 1979, showdown against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.

Coach Gordon Jago described the move as "a little quiet time for ourselves. It ought to give us a calming effect."

Perhaps the Rowdies needed some calming after a blowout 4-0 win at Tampa Stadium over the 12-3 Houston Hurricane in their previous game.
Sweeper Mike Connell hoped to see his team play even better against Ft. Lauderdale before crowning Tampa Bay as the team to beat in the NASL.

"If we can play like that Saturday against Ft. Lauderdale,” he said, “that's when I'll say we have a great side."

The upcoming contest against the Strikers began taking the shape of an inter-state grudge match. Ft. Lauderdale, on an impressive streak of their own, came in to Tampa winners in seven of their previous eight games.
English comedian Jasper Carrott, host of the documentary being made about the Rowdies, glowed about the prospects of the rivalry between Tampa Bay and Ft. Lauderdale.

"In England, many of the teams are located just a few miles apart," Carrott said. "Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale are a couple hundred miles apart, but the rivalry is there.
We want to see the crowd's reaction. We know it will be large and several thousand people will attend from Ft. Lauderdale. We'd like to see how an intense rivalry like this is handled here."

Tampa Bay's best, and most visible player, had a special role in stoking the budding rivalry. In 1978, Marsh called Ft. Lauderdale fans uneducated about soccer and suggested they would learn more about the game by watching the Rowdies instead of their own team. His remarks drew jeers from the fans in South Florida, and some aggressive play directed his way on the field may have cost Ft. Lauderdale an important game. He predicted nothing short of a repeat performance.

"Let them be mad at me," Marsh said. "That'll take their minds off playing the game. I would say the pressure is all on the Strikers."

In front of a season-high crowd of 41,102 fans at Tampa Stadium, the Strikers handled the pressure well in the early going. Former Rowdies goalie Arnold Mausser played brilliantly for the Strikers, stopping 10 shots on goal by Tampa Bay in the first half, including a point-blank save on Steve Wegerle just seconds before the end of the half.

"We should have gone up 3-0," Marsh would say after the game. "They held on and we just didn't put them away."

Ft. Lauderdale would get on the board first, scoring at the 48:41 mark of the second half on a goal by Peruvian Teofilo Cubillas to make the score 1-0.
Tampa Bay responded just over seven minutes later as Marsh and Wes McLeod assisted on a goal by Peter Baralic to even up the contest, 1-1.

Prior to the game, Marsh predicted that if the Strikers scored the first goal, the game would be low scoring because Ft. Lauderdale, he said, would sit back and try to defend their one goal. This is exactly what happened, and the teams played it even to the end.

Tampa Bay had a late scare, however, as a Ft. Lauderdale goal was disallowed due to an offsides call. With the score tied, the game then headed into overtime.

In the extra period, Gerd Mueller would make Tampa Bay pay. The West German star took a Ray Hudson corner kick off his chest and put the ball past Rowdies goalie Zeljko Bilecki at the 103:11 mark to give Ft. Lauderdale a 2-1 upset victory. The goal stunned the Tampa Stadium crowd who had not seen their Rowdies fall to Ft. Lauderdale since 1975, when they were known as the Miami Toros.

Despite the loss, however, neither Marsh nor Jago were sold on the Strikers.

"There is no doubt in my mind," Marsh said, "that we were the better team."

"I'll back us against Ft. Lauderdale any day," Jago said. "I don't fancy their program any."

Jasper Carrott, noting the lack of good-will between the teams, surely must have been smiling all the way back to England.

No comments:

Post a Comment