Sometimes Al Miller feels that the soccer fans in Tampa wouldn't mind seeing him tossed into the nearby bay.
Miller coaches the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the North American Soccer League. His team finished 19-11 in 1979, before losing to Vancouver in the Soccer Bowl.
The Rowdies are floundering heading into today's game against Team America at RFK Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Despite a 4-3 win over Chicago Friday night that ended a six-game losing streak, they are 6-17, with 69 points and third in the Southern Division, only three points ahead of Team America (9-13).
"The problems are a reflection of a club like Tampa Bay losing," Miller said. "People here are used to the club winning. The moment we started losing, we got crucified by the media and the fans. It's a normal reaction--it would happen to the New York Yankees or the Montreal Canadiens, too. It has put the players under great pressure. We were written off by the seventh game of the season. I have no excuses, really."
The Rowdies defeated Team America, 2-1, on July 13. "I thought the game was too physical," Miller said. "The refs let things get out of control. I wish they'd play a more open style, it would be more attractive."
"Tampa Bay is a team we want to beat," said Alkis Panagoulias, coach of Team America, which ended an eight game losing streak Friday night by upsetting Fort Lauderdale, 4-2. "We have a real chance to win."
"We've lost every close game we've been in," Miller said. "We're also two different teams. Because of a lot of injuries, we're a different team."
The Rowdies lost left-side midfielder Wes McCloud in the second game of the season. "We never really found a replacement," Miller said.
Then, the Rowdies' leading scorer in 1982, Luis Fernando (16 goals, 3 assists) was injured in the sixth game of the season against Toronto. The slack has been taken up by midfielder Manny Rojas (8 goals, 13 assists), forwards Tatu (10 goals, 2 assists), Franz Gerber (3 goals, 8 assists), and Mark Karpun (4 goals and one assist in seven games).
"Gerber and Tatu haven't played with the kind of quality that I had hoped. They've lost their effectiveness and confidence," Miller said. "Our quality isn't good enough compared to the rest of the league."
Miller did point to the play of Rojas as one of the few bright spots this year. "He's had a great season. He's a top-class player. He's a tremendous passer and very skillful. He's deceptive on free kicks, good around the penalty box, as well as a good playmaker."