The Tampa Bay Rowdies secured their first victory in club history at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s Highmark Stadium on Saturday night, putting on an attacking showcase to come away with a commanding 5-2 victory over their hosts. Leo Fernandes’ continued his extraordinary streak with a two-goal shift for the Rowdies in Pittsburgh.
“You’ve gotta come out and really perform in a difficult environment like this, and I think we really did that,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “For the first time this season, I think we can really say that we took our opportunities. We’ve created so much and we haven’t quite had the benefit of those chances and tonight we did.”
Saturday’s first half played out similarly to the matchup between the two sides at Al Lang Stadium back in May. In the 13th minute, Pittsburgh parted Tampa Bay’s defense to set Arturo Ordonez up for a headed finish, putting the Rowdies in a deficit straight out of the gate.
As they did last month, though, the Rowdies responded relentlessly to punish Pittsburgh with three unanswered goals in the first first half. Kyle Greig offered the spark just two minutes after Ordonez’s opening goal as Laurence Wyke launched a free kick from within Tampa Bay’s end of the field forward for Sebastian Dalgaard, who beat out the defender to head the ball into space for Greig. The Rowdies striker then deftly chipped his shot past the on-running Kevin Silva.
The Rowdies were not content to let the match stay level for long and found the go-ahead goal through Fernandes five minute later. Midfielder Yann Ekra set Fernandes up with a nifty one-touch chip over the back line and Fernandes took full advantage as Silva slipped on the turf coming off his line.
Tampa Bay remained on the front foot throughout the rest of the half and finally doubled the lead just before half In the 41st minute, Dalgaard picked up his second assist of the night with an impressive dribbling sequence down the left wing and along the endline before sliding a pass across the box to an unmarked Jake LaCava for the finish.
Rowdies keeper CJ Cochran was called on to make a pivotal stop in the 52nd minute. With Albert Dikway threatening in the box, Cochran rushed out and stuck his body in the way to parry the effort away.
Following Dikwa’s chance the Rowdies pulled away further with a marvelous scoring sequence from Lewis Hilton and Fernandes. Hilton initiated the goal with a booming pass from midfield that fell perfectly for Fernandes just outside the box. Fernandes expertly controlled the service with his first touch, chipped it over a defender with his second, and then buried the ball into the bottom right corner with his third touch.
Substitute Lucky Mkosana iced the result with an opportunistic chance in the 64th minute. Mkosana pounced on Pittsburgh’s last defender to strip him of the ball and drive forward before slotting a shot into the same bottom corner as Fernandes.
Russell Cicerone pulled one back for Pittsburgh in the 75th minute with a second-chance shot after an initial save from Cochran, but it was too little too late for Pittsburgh as the Rowdies rode out the victory to extend their unbeaten run to seven matches.
“I’d rather we didn’t lose those early goals, but it’s a testament to the boys, to their character, and also their belief in each other and what they’re doing,” said Collins. “They kept doing the right things, got a goal quickly, which I think helped, and after that I thought we looked very good. While Pittsburgh had a couple opportunities, I think we had even more opportunities that we didn’t take. Plenty more positives tonight than negatives.”
The Rowdies return home next Saturday to face the Eastern Conference leaders, Memphis 901 FC. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET and the Rowdies will be hosting a postmatch fireworks show in celebration of Independence Day weekend following the match. Tickets for the match can be secured here or by calling the Rowdies ticket office at 727-222-2000.
PITT – Ordonez (Dixon), 13th minute
TBR – Greig (Dalgaard), 15th minute
TBR – Fernandes (Ekra), 20th minute
TBR – LaCava (Dalgaard), 41st minute
TBR – Fernandes (Hilton), 57th minute
TBR – Mkosana, 64th minute
PITT – Cicerone, 75th minute
TBR: Cochran; Wyke, Scarlett, Antley, Guillen; Hilton, Fernandes, Ekra; Dalgaard, Greig, LaCava
PITT: Silva; Ordonez, Williams, Peters; Dixon, Griffin, Kelly, Dossantos; Forbes, Dika, Cicerone