The Tampa Bay Rowdies extended their unbeaten run to five matches on Saturday night with a 2-1 victory over in-state rival Miami FC at FIU Stadium. An own goal for the hosts in the first half gave the Rowdies and persistent pressure paid off with a penalty conversion three minutes into the second half.
“There were passages of our play in the first half that were excellent,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “We created some great opportunities and controlled the game at times against a very, very good side… I think Miami will feel they missed a couple opportunities, but I think it’s quite clear we missed a great opportunity to make it 3-1. Tonight’s just one of those ones when you’ve gotta be happy with the result in a very tough place to play.”
The Rowdies grabbed the lead 33 minutes into the match. Leo Fernandes earned a foul a few yards outside Miami’s box, setting Lewis Hilton up to drill a free kick into a dangerous spot that took a fortunate deflection off of defender Bolu Akinyode to slip by Connor Sparrow.
It did not take long for the Rowdies to double the lead in the second half. Jake LaCava penetrated Miami’s box before getting taken out by Othello Bah. Fernandes the stepped to the spot and slipped a shot into the bottom left corner, converting his second penalty in as many matches.
“Leo’s obviously been excellent playing in a different position, but on top of his great ability and performances, he’s really led the team. For whatever reason, from that position he’s looked even more of a leader. He took the responsibility of the penalty kick and it’s not easy when you’ve hit one the week before and I thought he put it away very well.”
Bah found redemption in the 65th minute. Capitalizing on the Rowdes’ inability to clear from their defensive third, Miami took control of the ball and swiftly played the ball into the box. Bah did well to smash the change over the shoulder of Cochran.
Miami held the edge in possession the rest of the way but could not find the equalizer. Rowdies keeper CJ Cochran made a crucial stop on a shot fired to the near post by Romeo Parkes. The Rowdies did create an opportunity to seal the match in the late stages when substitute Sebastian Guenzatti intercepted a pass at the top of Miami’s box. However, a defender stepped in front of Guenzatti to prevent his shot from getting to goal.
“I thought in the second half, despite Miami having played on Wednesday, our game last Sunday probably caught up with us a little bit,” noted Collins. “The boys put so much into last week’s matches. I think it took its toll and we saw signs of that late on, but they showed a lot of desire to keep us in the game.”
With the win, the Rowdies jumped up to third in the Eastern Conference, one point back of second-place Louisville City FC and two points behind first-place Memphis 901 FC. The Rowdies are the only unbeaten team in the Easten Conference over the last five matches and have claimed a win in four of those outings.
“People are always first to look at results,” said Collins. “I believe we’ve not been far off rom having periods like this. The boys have just stayed true to the process that they’ve been doing all season long and they’ve begun getting the breaks here and there, but that’s largely due to the performances. We’re certainly moving in the right direction.”
The Rowdies return home on Saturday, June 18 to face the Charleston Battery on Pride Night at Al Lang Stadium.
TBR – (MIA Own Goal) Akinyode, 33’
TBR – Fernandes, 48’ (Penalty)
MIA – Bah, 65’
TBR: Cochran; Scarlett (Dalgaard, 46’), Wyke, Guillen; Antley, Hilton, Ekra (Vancaeyezeele, 69’), Areman; Fernandes (Etou, 83’), Greig (Mkosana, 63’), LaCava (Guenzatti, 83’)
MIA: Sparrow; Stanley, Ofeimu, Chapman-Page; McFarlane, Bah, Valot, Akinyode; Parkes, Perez, Soto