ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Tampa Bay Rowdies turned the tables on the leaders in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference at the start of Saturday night. Tampa Bay scored in the opening minutes at Al Lang Stadium, added a second not too long after, and then rode a man advantage to a 2-0 victory. The win avenges a 3-1 loss in Memphis under similar circumstances in April.
After Saturday’s victory, the Rowdies are now unbeaten in eight straight matches and have gained valuable ground in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I thought the first half we were absolutely excellent,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “We carried on in terms of where we’ve been from our performances. We got the goals and could have had a couple more. As the first half goes, it’s as good as you can get and then in the second half we probably let ourselves down in some areas, but credit Memphis. They’re top of the league for a reason. They’re not just gonna lie down. They put up a great fight.”
It took only three minutes for the Rowdies to jump in front of the visitors. Forward Kyle Greig took advantage as two of Memphis’ defenders collided with each other. Greig slipped into the box and fired off a shot that was blocked, but he did well to poke the rebound over to an unmarked LaCava, who smashed the ball across the line.
LaCava went on to add his second on the night and ninth overall on the season in the 19th minute. Leo Fernandes danced his way down Memphis’ endline before slipping a perfect pass to LaCava for another finish. This time keeper Trey Muse got a touch on the attempt, but it wasn’t enough to keep the ball out of the net.
After the halftime break, Memphis came out with an urgency to cut the deficit in half quickly. With a high press, Memphis managed to pin the Rowdies down and create a few turnovers. However, their effort only amounted to one shot on target all night. In the 55th minute, Jeremy Kelly launched a low strike from 22 yards out that keeper CJ Cochran parried away to keep the clean sheet intact.
Memphis’ rally was critically hampered at the hour mark as Lucas Turci picked up his second yellow card of the night to earn a red card. Both of Turci’s cards came as the result of fouls on Rowdies midfielder Lewis Hilton.
The result puts the Rowdies two points back of Memphis and three points back of Louisville City FC, who take over the top spot in the east after picking up a late penalty to best Birmingham Legion FC 2-1.
“For us, it’s really about focusing on the performance and how we can get better than tonight,” said Collins. “If we keep getting those performances better, then the results will come and that will push us hopefully to the front of that race, but there’s still a lot of games to be played and the schedule will probably even out.”
Tampa Bay hits the road next week for a matchup with Hartford Athletic on Saturday, July 9.
TBR – LaCava (Greig), 3rd minute
TBR – LaCava (Fernandes), 19th minute
TBR: Cochran; Wyke, Scarlett, Antley, Guillen; Hilton, Ekra, Fernandes, Dalgaard, LaCava; Greig
MEM: Muse; Buckmaster, Smith, Logue, Seagrist; Molloy, Paul; Dodson, Turci, Kelly; Goodrum