Monday, June 28, 2010

Rowdies Rebound Against Sockers, 6/25/80

“Words come easy,” said Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Gordon Jago, “but it is action that counts.”

Heading into a June 25, 1980, showdown at Tampa Stadium against the San Diego Sockers, the Rowdies were most certainly a team ready for action. A treacherous month of play on the road left the team in desperate need of some home cooking. A rash of injuries and an inability to win on the road resulted in three consecutive away defeats.

Consider, the Rowdies were 7-1 at home, where they outscored their opponents by a 21-12 margin. On the road, however, Tampa Bay sported a disappointing 3-6 mark and averaged just 1.1 goals per game. The team’s most recent road trip featured a 4-1 loss at Minnesota, and a 2-0 defeat at Rochester in unseasonable 40 degree weather.

Sidelined by groin injuries were midfielder Peter Baralic, striker Oscar Fabbiani, and defender Manny Andruszewski.
Jago hoped to err on the side of caution before rushing any of the players back onto the field. Injuries had been a recurring theme throughout the season and Jago needed his players to fully-recovered for his team to have any chance at making a return to the league championship game.

Injuries aside, Jago wondered, as did many in the media and “Fannies” throughout Tampa Bay, why the team struggled so mightily on the road. Not only that, but why the Rowdies failed to even resemble the team normally so strong on the home pitch of Tampa Stadium. He questioned the effort of his team – without singling out anyone in particular – in the game against Rochester, when the Rowdies failed to generate any real scoring chances.

The team’s attitude, he felt, had to improve starting with San Diego.
Several members of the Rowdies, however, we just tired of hearing about their team’s road woes.

“All this talk about the road makes me a little sick,” said team captain Jan Van Der Veen. “I think we talk too much about it. I don’t think it’s a big dilemma now, but it could be if we continue to talk about it.”

Defender John Gorman said, “I don’t think we’re in a crisis just yet.”

Rather than dwelling on the negative, Mike Connell, one of the team’s leaders, saw the upcoming game as a chance for redemption.

“We’re in front of our fans and I don’t think there’s any doubt that we will play better and win.” Connell proved accurate on both counts.

In front of a welcoming crowd of 23,911 at Tampa Stadium, the Rowdies produced another dominant home performance.
Midfielder Peter Anderson, who had recently been converted to forward due to the team’s rash of injuries, got things started for the Rowdies at 24:55 of the first half. Striker Neill Roberts got the play going by intercepting a clearing attempt by San Diego defender Martin Donnelly. What followed were a series of pinpoint passes between Roberts, Anderson and Steve Wegerle. Anderson then converted Wegerle’s feed past San Diego goalie Volkmar Gross for the opening score.

The goal must surely have felt like sweet redemption for Anderson, who had become -- in the eyes of many fans --one of the scapegoats for the team’s poor road play in June.
He played an all-around superb game, registering several other chances including a header that just missed in the opening minutes of the second half.

Not long after that, a ball passed by Wegerle and intended for Anderson ended up on the foot of Keith Bailey. The 18-year-old rookie, playing in just his third professional game, calmly hit the top-shelf just past the finger tips of Gross to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead at 62:47.

Wegerle’s second assist of the game catapulted him past Rodney Marsh in the Tampa Bay record book for most career assists with 51. The Rowdies were thwarted on a few more scoring chances, but were able to shut down San Diego the rest of the way and hang on for the 2-0 victory.

“These boys have gone through a hell of a month,” Jago said after the game, “and it was very good to see them get this victory.”

Anderson too relished the victory in light of the criticism directed his way and to that of his teammates.

“If players say I can’t play, it’s time to get out,” Anderson said. “But all the players came up to me before the game and said they’re behind me 100 percent. That’s a good feeling.”

Today, Anderson looks back on the controversy of that week as a turning point in his career.

The week before, one of our forwards (Oscar Fabbiani) was injured, and Coach Jago asked me to do the team a favor and play his position, Anderson recalls. I was also injured and could hardly walk at the time, but he insisted on taking me on the road trip. We had a week's rest after that trip right before we played San Diego at home.

During our final training session before that game, Jago told me that Fabbiani was fit, he was dropping me to the bench, and he was not going to put me back in my normal mid-field position. While he was talking to me, behind his back Fabbiani literally went down with an injury in a scrimmage that team was playing at the end of practice. I told Jago that I would never play out of position again, and that he might want to rethink his strategy regarding Fabbiani, as he was lying on the floor with a bad injury.

I must have been the only option because he quickly apologized and asked me to play out of position again for the 'team and the fans.' It was nice to score the winning goal, but my relationship went downhill with the coach. I played every minute of every game, but it was not the happy marriage it once had been.

For one night, however, the Rowdies were back in top form and within two points of first place Fort Lauderdale in the standings. Still, this team would eventually have to conquer their demons on the road and overcome numerous injuries if they hoped to be a team of action come playoff time.

* written by Travis Puterbaugh

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