By Bryan Burns, Times Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2010
[DANIEL WALLACE | Times]
TAMPA — Through its first eight games, the Tampa Bay Rowdies have had trouble identifying a primary scoring target.
Nine different players had scored the team’s 15 goals entering Saturday’s match against the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Last week, Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish said that over the course of the season, one player, maybe two, would step to the scoring forefront.
The Rowdies might have found their man in Aaron Wheeler.
Wheeler, a 6-foot-5 forward, scored for the fourth time in five games to give the Rowdies a 1-0 lead in the 44th minute.
Then in the 83rd minute, Wheeler became the provider on Aaron King’s goal that secured the Rowdies’ third victory in a row. King muscled through a defender in the box and sent a shot with his outstretched foot into goal in a 2-1 win in front of 5,023 fans at Steinbrenner Field.
«The team’s just giving me the opportunities,» said Wheeler, sporting a stitched, bloodied upper gum after taking a hard knock in the first half. «It’s all them; they’re doing all the hard work getting the ball to me. … I want to be that guy for the team, so I’m just taking the chances when I get them and hopefully I’ll be able to develop that.»
Wheeler’s strike came seven minutes after Puerto Rico’s Joseph Salem was shown a straight red card in the 37th minute, apparently for trying to stomp on the ankle of Long Tan.
Up a man, the Rowdies (5-1-3) took advantage.
Pascal Millien ran onto a long pass down the left sideline and cut back and forth to create space. Millien laid a pass off to Graham Tatters, who sent a cross into the box. The Islanders tried to clear the ball out of danger, but Wheeler intercepted and slipped home his team-leading fourth goal of the season right before halftime.
«The ball just dropped, and my eyes got absolutely huge I was so excited,» he said.
The Islanders (2-3-0) equalized in the 56th minute when defender Marco Velez found himself unmarked in front of goal on a corner kick and easily sent a header by goalkeeper Daryl Sattler.
The Rowdies had plenty of opportunities to retake the lead, and King finally broke through in the 83rd minute. Takuya Yamada played a long throw in to Wheeler, who flicked a pass into the box for King.
King, with a defender draped on his back, reached out high with his foot to one-touch Wheeler’s pass into the back of the net.
«Great flick (from Wheeler). It was right into my stride,» King said. «I just got my boot on it and went to the far post. Nice little set-up.»
The Rowdies (18 points) extend their league-leading unbeaten streak to seven and continue chasing U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 leader Austin (20).
«People might start believing that we’re a decent team now,» Dalglish said. «People are saying, ‘You’ve not played one of the big boys yet.’ Now we have. We’re just going to keep trying to win, keeping trying to improve and let’s see where we are at the end of the season.»