The original Tampa Bay Rowdies were ‘A Kick in the Grass,’ so it’s not surprising they were no great shakes on the artificial surfaces of the old North American Soccer League. In the first three years of their existence, they went 48-17 on grass fields and just 5-7 on turf and they’d lost six straight matches on artificial surfaces coming into the 1978 season.
Well, in my APBA Soccer replay of that 1978 season, just as in real life, the Rowdies broke that streak with a win over the New England Tea Men at (then) Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. But could they really win back to back matches on fake grass? The replay continues with the third match of the season against the first-year Detroit Express at the Pontiac Silverdome in suburban Detroit.
Rowdies’ offense sputters in Motor City
PONTIAC, Mich.(April 16, 1978) – With captain and offensive spark Rodney Marsh out with a back injury, the Tampa Bay Rowdies managed just five shots in a 1-0 loss to the expansion Detroit Express Sunday evening at the Silverdome.
A crowd of 28,523 saw the Express win their third straight game to start their existence, with the only goal coming off the foot of Mick Leach at 60:07. Leach collected a corner kick by David Bradford at the edge of the penalty area and hit a line drive past Tampa Bay goalkeeper Paul Hammond and into the net.
The Rowdies could have taken the lead early when Mick McGuire was fouled in the penalty area by Detroit’s Steve Seargeant. Seargeant received a yellow card for the hard foul, but David Robb couldn’t convert the penalty as Steve Hardwick dove to his right to punch the ball away. That would turn out to be the Rowdies’ only shot on goal of the entire game, and they went the last 28 minutes without a single shot against a tenacious and swarming Detroit defense.
Marsh normally takes penalty kicks for Tampa Bay, and did make the trip in hopes he would be able to shake off the effects of the back injury he suffered in a recent practice. But he was unable to play when 6 o’clock came and that may have made a difference in the Rowdies’ second loss in three games against new clubs to start the season.
With Marsh, Adrian Alston and Joey Fink out with injuries and Derek Smethurst still recovering from a hamstring pull, Tampa Bay coach Gordon Jago started defender Jim Fleeting at forward along with Robb and Steve Wegerle.
“Well, we really didn’t have any alternative,” Jago admitted. “Jim volunteered to give it a go.”
Smethurst did enter the game with 18 minutes left but was ineffective, and with a makeshift lineup that included Boris Bandov making his first start since the 1977 season finale, Tampa Bay could not break down Detroit’s solid defensive back four. While the two teams set a Tampa Bay record for fewest shots combined in a game (the old record of 21 was originally set May 31, 1975 against San Antonio), Detroit had most of the possession and made seemingly all the defensive plays necessary to strangle the Rowdies’ attack.
“We wanted to win for the crowd,” said Express coach Ken Furphy1The Express said they’d be happy with a crowd of 15,000 for their second home game, but only drew 7,815. While their crowds picked up late in the season, including a 32,000+ gathering for their final playoff game, the Express never averaged 15,000 in any of their three years of existence..
With the loss, Tampa Bay is now 1-2 with just eight standings points out of a possible 272Remember, the NASL awarded 6 points for a win and a bonus point for each goal scored in a match up to three, so a nine-point game was the maximum possible. They return home April 22 to play the San Jose Earthquakes.
1 2 - F Tampa Bay 0 0 - 0 Detroit 0 1 - 1 SCORING DET - Leach (Bradford) 60:07 FINAL STATISTICS TAMPA BAY DETROIT 0 Goals 1 5 Shots 15 1 SOG 3 2 Saves 1 3 Corners 8 10 Fouls 6 0 Offsides 1 Cautions - Seargeant (D) (1:54), Leach (D) (38:35) LINEUPS Tampa Bay - Hammond, St. Lot, Auguste, Connell, Papandrea, McLeod, Bandov (Smethurst 72:00), McGuire (Paddon 67:23), Fleeting, Robb, Wegerle Detroit - Hardwick, Hunter, Davies, Colquhoun, Seargeant, Moffatt, Bradford, Oates, Leach, Earle, Furphy A - 28,523
This one took me an even two hours to play, and, of course, it helps when not much actually happens, but that doesn’t make it particularly exciting. This was the epitome of the term “defensive struggle” as it was full of turnovers, 50/50 balls, corner kicks and very few actual scoring chances.
Small sample, yes, but the three games to this point have featured exactly four goals, well below the NASL’s 1978 average of 3.36 goals per game. As I’m the guy who created the cards, I’m the guy who is to blame if the results are nowhere near realistic. Worth keeping an eye on.