ST PETERSBURG, FL – The Tampa Bay Rowdies wasted little time in snapping their two-match scoreless streak in Saturday’s encounter with FC Tulsa at Al Lang Stadium. Lewis Hilton put the Green & Gold up just three minutes into the match, blasting a loose ball in the box straight into the back of the net and paving the way for the Rowdies to secure a 3-1 victory.
“I hope the fans enjoyed it tonight because really that’s what we’re asking the players to do, entertain our fans,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “I think we did that and we just want to keep doing more of that. The scoreline probably wasn’t a fair reflection of how well the boys played… Just our mentality, being on the front foot, it was all just really good. We’re very pleased.”
Hilton initiated his scoring sequence himself with an assist from Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti. An errant cross from keeper Sean Lewis allowed Hiltont to step in and pass the ball forward for Guenzatti, who drove into the box before driving the ball across goal. Lewis managed to parry Guenzatti’s effort away but he only directed it to the feet of Hilton. The Rowdies midfielder made no mistake in rifling the ball across the line.
The visitors tasked Raiko Arozarena just two minutes later when JJ Williams attempted to head the ball over the Rowdies keeper, who had drifted out to the center of the box. However, Arozarena extended fully to tip the ball up and just over the crossbar.
After Williams’ chance, the Rowdies took hold of the match and never relented the rest of the night. Jake LaCava earned the next scoring opportunity in the 25th minute after being tripped up in the box to elicit a whistle from the referee. Guenzatti stepped to the spot and aimed his conversion attempt to the right. Tulsa Keeper Sean Lewis guessed the opposite direction but it didn’t matter as Guenzatti’s strike clipped the post to stay out of goal.
Tampa Bay kept up the pressure and doubled the lead eight minutes before the break. LaCava took the ball in stride on the right wing and delivered a dangerous cross toward the near post. Forward Kyle Greig anticipated LaCava’s intentions well and timed a sliding strike to best Lewis at the near post.
“I’m most dangerous inside the box and the six-yard box,” said Greig. “I like to make hard runs to the front post and throughout this week we’ve put a lot of emphasis on putting the ball in the back of the net and getting familiar with where the guys are running and where the ball can be most dangerous. Fortunately it paid off tonight.”
Arozarena was called on again early in the second half. Eric Bird powered a long range shot toward the top right post but Arozarena plucked the effort out of the air before it reached its destination.
Williams finally got the visitors on the board in the dying moments as he was left unmarked in the center of the box to finish a cross from teammate Brian Brown.
Any hope of a comeback point for Tulsa was dashed just two minutes later, though. Rowdies substitutes Leo Fernandes and Dayonn Harris combined to put the Rowdies back up by two. Fernandes danced through several defenders on the endline before slipping a pass across goal, where Harris was free to clean up for his first goal of the year.
“The way the boys were playing, you’ve gotta stay on the front foot and we did that,” said Collins. “Credit to the boys, I actually felt if anything they upped their performance in the second half. We want more goals but if we keep doing that they’ll come.”
Next up for the Rowdies is a clash with MLS’ Orlando City SC in the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, April 20 at 7pm. The match is set to be played at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium. Traveling Rowdies fans can purchase tickets for the match here.
TBR – Lewis Hilton 3’
TBR – Kyle Greig (Jake LaCava) 37’
TUL – JJ Williams (Brian Brown) 85’
TBR – Dayonn Harris (Leo Fernandes) 87’
Rowdies: Arozarena; Wyke, Antley, Guillen; Dalgaard (Harris, 74’), Hilton, Ekra, Areman (Fernandes, 74’); LaCava (Mkosana, 86’), Greig (Dos Santos, 65’), Guenzatti (Etou, 86’)
Tulsa: Lewis; Bourgeois, Rodriguez, Diz Pe, Torres; Ramirez (Rivas, 45’), Bird (Fenwick, 72’), Obinwa (Obinwa, 72’), da Costa (Moloto, 78’), Suarez (Borwn, 72’); Williams