Rowdies Can Rongen

By Benjamin Massey

August 21st, 2015 · No comments

Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

Today, Thomas Rongen lost the NASL sack race. 261 days after being named Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach on December 3[1], the veteran has been fired along with general manager Farrukh Quraishi[2].

Whenever you fire your coach eighteen games into his first season while tied for third in the NASL combined standings you’re hitting the panic button. Was I Rowdies owner Bill Edwards I’d have given Rongen more time. Well, I tell a half-truth; was I Edwards I wouldn’t have hired Rongen at all. When I wrote my 10,000-word NASL preview in March I called Rongen, as politely as I could, “the sort of coach who always seems to get a new job somewhere.”[3] I’m sure he will, too. Rongen is affable, fun on social media, and wears a bowtie. He is a “character” with support in the soccer community and such people are never out of work indefinitely, though the litany of disappointment since the 1999 MLS Cup is now a bit longer.

It’s not like Rongen and Quraishi were serene themselves. The two ex-bosses tore down virtually the entire Rowdies roster over the 2014-15 offseason; they must take credit for the new team’s achievements and blame for its failures. Recently they made headlines by signing two high-profile busts, Freddy Adu and Omar Salgado. Adu, who is frequently injured, has played a total of fifteen minutes in one game. Salgado, who is even more frequently injured than that, spent some time waiting for paperwork, played twelve minutes in one game, and hasn’t been seen since. They joined a team of career underachievers like Corey Hertzog, Gale Agbossoumonde, Maicon Santos, and Rich Balchan, with only Hertzog inherited from 2014. There’s little material to suggest a championship run, and maybe a hot start raised expectations beyond reason. If so that would be cruel: the luck that made Rongen look good in the spring turned out to be really bad.

Tampa Bay had a fine spring season. They finished in second place, only a point behind New York (who nobody’s going to get) and were second in goal difference as well. If not for the Cosmos beating the Rowdies 2-0 in New York on April 18, Tampa Bay would already have booked a playoff spot thanks to the NASL’s split-season format. There’s no denying that firing the leadership of a team which came so close so quickly looks odd.

NASL TSRs and PDOs through August 21
Spring 2015 Fall 2015 Total 2015
ATL 0.448 92.35 0.385 114.52 0.419 103.74
CAR 0.427 117.20 0.419 98.37 0.423 107.93
EDM 0.478 94.20 0.556 110.74 0.511 100.68
FTL 0.504 102.69 0.562 91.55 0.527 98.97
IND 0.535 103.77 0.558 90.68 0.546 97.62
JAX 0.503 80.00 0.509 103.57 0.506 102.04
MIN 0.528 99.74 0.503 106.60 0.518 102.04
NY 0.557 107.35 0.548 98.18 0.553 103.65
OTT 0.528 91.39 0.528 107.01 0.528 100.67
SA 0.500 94.28 0.422 95.00 0.469 94.54
TB 0.492 111.00 0.500 85.71 0.495 99.26

But the spring season is only ten games. Drawing conclusions from ten games’ worth of results is stupid. To the right are the Total Shots Ratio (TSR) and PDO of each team in the NASL so far this season. Fully explaining TSR and PDO is beyond the scope of this article but think of them as statistical smell tests. PDO is simply a team’s shooting percentage plus its save percentage, and TSR the proportion of total shots in a game taken by the team in question. So a team that’s generating more chances than its opposition will tend to have a higher TSR, and a team which is converting on a lot of its shots or getting lights-out goalkeeping a high PDO. This is important because history suggests that a team with an outrageous PDO, either high or low, is deceiving you: over the long haul a team’s PDO approaches 100.00, and if the PDO is way out from that said team is probably either better or worse than the standings show.

NASL statistics aren’t perfectly accurate, but people who minded their TSRs and PDOs would have guessed that the Cosmos would be killing it this year while the Scorpions and Railhawks slumped, and that FC Edmonton wasn’t nearly as good as their 2014 autumn. The point isn’t that comparing TSRs and PDOs allows you to glean soccer’s well-hidden secrets, but that it allows you to guess broadly who’s lucky and who isn’t.

Tampa Bay’s TSR is solidly middle of the road. In the spring they surged with the second-best PDO in the league and the best among anybody who should seriously be considering playoff spots. In the fall their luck’s run out and their spot in the standings has fallen with it. The result is that their current position is about right, or maybe a little flattering. They’re average. They have average tattooed all over their foreheads. That certainly isn’t enough to blow away your coach after eighteen games, but it’s not worth making a real fuss to defend the guy either.

Last year’s Rowdies, much-maligned with a long-time coach playing his kid in front of a crowd demanding a lot more, were pretty average as well until they were decimated by the new management. 2014 Tampa Bay ended the year with a perfectly respectable TSR of 0.509. Where they fell apart was in PDO: 85.85 was last place in the league by a lot. A 22.09% shooting percentage was bad, but their save percentage of 63.77% was the real killer, and so the Rowdies finished well out of the playoff running.

Break down Tampa Bay’s spring PDO and you’ll see how their save percentage improved and nearly brought them glory: 84.21%, first in the NASL by a long way. Quelle différence, but not a sustainable number. An anti-stats type might grumble that Rongen should get credit for finding talent in goal, but the problem is that Tampa Bay’s keepers have been Matt Pickens, one of the few returning 2014 Rowdies, and veteran Kamil Čontofalský, who despite obviously being a good player had an unlucky save percentage last year in Fort Lauderdale. Rongen did not find brilliant new talent capable of posting high percentages: two keepers coming off low percentages, one of whom Tampa already had, rebounded.

Moreover, the Rowdies are not a young team building for the future: as mentioned above, a lot of their players have been plucked from the busts of a higher level. Men like Adu, Hertzog, and Agbossoumonde will not develop into star players now that they’re in their mid-twenties with several professional seasons behind them. There’s been much talk of a “five-year plan” but, in Tampa Bay’s case, that didn’t mean developing home-grown talent this season at the cost of results. On the Rowdies roster Salgado, Darwin Espinal, Robert Hernández, and Jeff Michaud are under 22 years old, and only Michaud played his teenage years in Florida. Michaud and Hernández essentially never play, leaving Espinal as the only young-ish regular. Čontofalský is 37, Pickens is 33, and leading scorer Maicon Santos is 31. That’s a long way from a youth movement.

Again, there is nothing here to justify so large a change to the team so quickly. For Rongen and Quraishi’s firings to make sense on their own terms there has to be something else: maybe all those new players came at a high price their performances haven’t justified, maybe something went on behind the scenes, or maybe Bill Edwards is just sick of waiting and doesn’t see enough improvement on the horizon. So that’s my defense of Rongen and Quraishi. The other side is there’s no reason for Rowdies fans to stay up wishing they were still around, either.

[1] — “Tampa Bay Rowdies name Thomas Rongen head coach.” Tampa Bay Rowdies, December 3, 2014. Accessed August 21, 2015.

[2] — “Rowdies part ways with Farrukh Quraishi and Thomas Rongen.” Tampa Bay Rowdies, August 21, 2015. Accessed August 21, 2015

[3] — Massey, Benjamin. “The Maple Leaf Forever! 2015 North American Soccer League Preview.” Maple Leaf Forever!, March 26, 2015. Accessed August 21, 2015.

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