ST. PETERSBURG, FL – A few days after conceding late and settling for a 1-1 draw against FC Tulsa, the Tampa Bay Rowdies saw out a gritty 1-0 result versus Louisville City FC on Sunday night at Al Lang Stadium. Leo Fernandes provided the lone goal, earning a penalty and then converting from the spot to put the Rowdies up.
“I thought it was probably more than a professional win if you know the type of the week we’ve had,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “The first half had some fantastic bits of play, we really created some great opportunities. In the second half, we had to really dig it out and show a lot of grit. I thought the boys did that. It was really important to see that side of it. The other night we had a very good performance but maybe lacked that little bit more in important times.”
Sunday’s match was originally scheduled for Saturday night, but unexpected travel delays for Rowdies players and staff returning from Tulsa meant the match had to be postponed a day. The entire Rowdies contingent that went to Tulsa did not end up making it back to Tampa Bay until Saturday morning.
Just a few minutes into the match, play was stopped for an extended time after a head injury to Louisville keeper Kyle Morton. With Morton unable to continue, Louisville inserted Danny Faundez into the net.
Faundez made two impressive stops in the second half. He came off his line to shut down Jake LaCava’s angle before the Rowdies attacker could get his shot off. He also stood his ground to deny Tampa Bay’s Kyle Greig after he blasted a low strike from the top of the box toward the near post.
The Rowdies found their breakthrough moment in the 43rd minute. With some persistent pressure, the Rowdies forced Louisville into a turnover in their own defensive third. Fernandes collected the ball just inside the box and was impeded by defender Wes Charpie while trying to lay a pass off to LaCava. Fernandes then stepped to the spot and converted with a shot right down the middle as Faundez dove to his right.
Unlike the draw in Tulsa on Wednesday, the Rowdies maintained their tight defensive lines throughout the entire match. Louisville left Louisville without a single shot on goal, giving the Rowdies their first clean sheet since the scoreless draw in Oakland on April 2.
“You talk about clean sheet performances, we’ve probably had one or two of them and not got the clean sheet,” said Collins. “Tonight I felt we got the performance in respect to the defense side and we got the clean sheet. We know we’re going to have to get more clean sheets between now and the end of the season. I think we could have scored more goals, especially in the first half, but a one-nil victory under the circumstances is vital.”
With the win, the Rowdies now sit fifth in the Eastern Conference standings with 23 points, five points back of first-place Memphis 901 FC and four back of second-place Louisville. Next up, the Rowdies travel south to face Miami FC on Saturday, June 11.