The Tampa Bay Rowdies claimed victory in dramatic fashion in Saturday’s contest versus Hartford Athletic at Dillon Stadium to extend the club’s unbeaten streak to nine matches. Playing down a man in stoppage time, the Rowdies pushed in the dying moments to earn a penalty, which was converted by attacking midfielder Leo Fernandes to seal a 3-2 result for the Rowdies.
“You’ve gotta just take your hat off to the lads to go on and win that game with 10 men in the last three or four minutes with a couple different opportunities,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins..” It’s what you need to do if you want to be at the top of this league… I always talk about performance, but every once and again you’ve got to rise above poor performances and get the win.”
Tampa Bay ceded the majority of possession to their hosts in the first half but managed to still be the more threatening side, preventing Hartford to no shots on target and breaking the deadlock with a wonderful Sebastian Dalgaard strike in the 36th minute. Making his first appearance since early May, forward Steevan Dos Santos started the scoring sequence by stripping Hartford players deep in the corner and slotting a pass to Fernandes at the top of the box. Fernandes passed it along to Lewis Hilton, who slipped the ball out wide for Dalgaard to hammer off the underside of the crossbar and into the goal.
“Big Steevan coming back in, I thought at times he did really, really well,” said Collins. “We’re pleased to have him back. He did what he’s good at. He won the ball back and it was an excellent team goal. I’m pleased for Seb D because he’s hit a few off the bar recently, so it’s nice to see one hit the bar an dgo in.”
After a bright first half, the Rowdies found themselves down a goal just 20 minutes into the second half. Hartford’s captain Danny Barrera leveled things in the 49th minute after the Rowdies failed to properly clear the ball from danger. Barrera then set up a go-ahead goal in the 56th minute, lifting a pass into the final third for Rashawn Dally to bury past keeper CJ Cochran as Tampa Bay’s entire back line looked for an offside flag that never came.
“For the first three, four minutes, we really started exactly as we had in the first half and then conceded their first goal in a comedy of errors,” said Collins. “From that point, everything we’d done well, we stopped doing. We did create some chances at 2-1 that we obviously should have scored. We looked a bit more vulnerable as well, so it was an end-to-end game at that point.”
Dos Santos made one more pivotal contribution before being subbed off in the 74th minute. Driving into the box, the imposing striker cut in to his left and was taken down by a challenge from defender Tom Brewitt. Fernandes stepped up and converted to put the Rowdies back on level terms.
Both sides had promising looks at goal from that point on, but the Rowdies’ chances at a comeback win looked dire after center back Jordan Scarlett was shown a straight red card for a sliding challenge to Ariel Martinez. With the injury to Martinez, stoppage time was extended and the Rowdies took full advantage. Substitute Dayon Harris pushed the ball past Joel Johnson on the right edge of the box but was tripped up by Johnson, drawing another penalty for the Rowdies. Fernandes then calmly converted to ice the match.
“The last few minutes were down to the players,” stressed Collins. “I got one message on about where people were going to play and the boys just went on and took it. To be fair, after (the red card) we looked like the only team that was going to win the game. I think we’ve been on the end of a couple of these moments, so tonight to be able to take advantage of, I wouldn’t call them breaks because I thought they were both penalties, but to just get rewarded for some of our hard work was good.”
The top three teams in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference all won on Saturday night, meaning the Rowdies stay put at third in the standings with 36 points. Louisville City FC remains at the top with 39 points, while Memphis 901 FC sits second with 38 points.
Tampa Bay remains on the road next Saturday, as they travel to face Loudoun United FC. They return home to host Atlanta United II on Saturday, July 23 at Al Lang Stadium.
TBR – Dalgaard (Hilton), 36’
HFD – Barrera, 49’
HFD – Dally, 56’
TBR – Fernandes (Penalty), 73’
TBR – Fernandes (Penalty), 90+8’
HFD – Gdula, Yellow Card, 32’
TBR – Vancaeyezeele, Yellow Card, 61’
TBR – Wyke, Yellow Card, 62’
TBR – Dos Santos, Yellow Card, 64’
TBR – Scarlett, Red Card, 90+2’
HFD, Oettl, Yellow Card, 90+7’
TBR: Cochran; Wyke, Scarlett, Vancaeyezeele, Guillen; Hilton, Ekra (Areman, 74’), Fernandes; LaCava (Harris, 63’), Dos Santos (Mkosana, 74’), Dalgaard (Guenzatti, 74’)
HFD: Oettl; Boudadi, Gdula (Martinez, 45’), Brewitt, Yacoubou; McGlynn, Dally (Hertzog, 77’), Prpa (Apollon, 80’), Barrera, Johnson, Obregon Jr (Saydee, 45’)