ST. PETERSBURG — When the Rowdies travel to Kentucky to take on Louisville City FC on Saturday night, one member of Tampa Bay’s club will be back in familiar surroundings.
Lucky Mkosana, the forward Tampa Bay acquired from Louisville in a midseason trade, said he is excited to play in an energetic Louisville Slugger Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m., but he also knows what’s at stake as the Rowdies enter their last month of the regular season.
“We want to go out there and get a win,” Mkosana said. “Obviously, I played there before. I know the fans and the guys on the team, but I feel like it’s going to be a business trip on Saturday.”
Tampa Bay and Louisville first faced off on April 13, playing to a 1-1 draw at Al Lang Stadium. At the time, Mkosana was on the visitor’s bench in St. Petersburg. Since joining the Rowdies in a June 28 trade that sent Antoine Hoppenot to Louisville, Mkosana has four goals for Tampa Bay. On Saturday, he makes his return to Louisville in a Rowdies uniform.
Louisville City, the two-time defending USL champions, will present a stiff challenge for the Rowdies.
“They put teams under pressure at home,” Mkosana said of Louisville. “I feel like we have to respond with the same energy. We can’t give them time to breathe or time to get comfortable.”
The Rowdies (16-6-8) clinched a playoff spot last week despite a 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Fury FC on Sept. 18. After the mid-week loss, Tampa Bay rebounded at home with a 6-1 rout of Bethlehem Steel FC last Saturday.
“(At the) end of a long week, a disappointing week, I think they respond to adversity well,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “They refocused after a rough trip to Ottawa.”
Collins wants his team to push their way to the top of the United Soccer League’s Eastern Conference standings. With 56 points, the Rowdies are currently tied with Indy Eleven and New York Red Bulls II atop the conference
Indy has a game in hand. It has played 29 matches while Tampa Bay and New York have played 30.
Two more clubs, Nashville and Pittsburgh, have 55 points for the season. The top five clubs in the east, separated by only one point, have all punched their postseason tickets.
Louisville (14-7-8) is currently sixth in the east with 50 points, and the club is still looking to clinch its playoff spot. In its last match, Louisville outslugged New York 5-3.
“They’re the champions,” Collins said of Louisville City. “You’re going in to play one of the best teams in the league.”
With only four matches left, a win and three points on Saturday can help the Rowdies secure a top-four seed, a first-round bye and a home playoff match.
“If we perform the way we have,” Collins said, “I expect we’ll pick up the points and put us in a good position.”