The Tampa Bay Rowdies returned to the win column at a packed Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night. 6,714 fans came out to see the Rowdies prevail 3-1 over Orange County SC after going down a man just before the hour mark.
With back-to-back scoreless defeats in their rearview mirror, the Rowdies started with premium urgency to put the ball in the back of the net. That energy paid off in the 15th minute, as Conner Antley dispossessed an Orange County player on the right wing and fed a pass to Leo Fernandes. The two Rowdies combined for a give-and-go in the final third, culminating with a Fernandes strike into the top left corner of the goal. The tally is Fernandes’ 13th of the season so far.
Another turnover led to another Tampa Bay goal just before the half. This time it was Fernandes who stripped Orange County of the ball in the middle of the field and then sprung Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti into the box. Guenzatti’s effort made it past keeper Patrick Rakovsky and was on its way to rolling just wide of the far post until defender Ian Hoffman swooped in and buried it into Orange County’s goal with a miscued clearance.
Orange County gained a foothold out of the halftime break with a renewed intensity to pin the Rowdies down. The pressure got the better of the Rowdies in the 56th minute when Yann Ekra was issued a second yellow for a foul preventing Orange County from a free run into the box. The visitors immediately capitalized on the ensuing free kick with a well-placed free kick into the top right corner to halve Tampa Bay’s lead.
Now with a man advantage, Orange County continued to mount pressure on Tampa Bay’s back line. In response, the Rowdies brough defender Jordan Scarlett in off the bench to bolster the defense. CJ Cochran also stood stall with a few massive stops from point blank range to keep the Rowdies lead intact.
Substitute Dayonn Harris provided a much-needed outlet for the Rowdies up top with his tireless energy after entering. His effort was reward just before the stoppage time with a goal to seal the result. A well-threaded through ball from midfielder Junior Etou freed Fernandes for run down the left flank. Fernandes then slotted a pass for Harris to slot past Rakovsky with his first touch.
With the result, the Rowdies improve to 51 points on the season, four points back of the current leader in the Eastern Conference, Louisville City FC, who lost to Miami on Saturday 1-0. Memphis 901 FC still holds on to second place in the East by virtue of a tiebreaker.
The Rowdies remain at home next Saturday for a matchup with another opponent from the Western Conference, Las Vegas Lights FC. Tickets for the Match can be purchased here or by calling the sales office at 727-222-2000.
OC – Yellow Card, Orozco, 7′
TBR – Yellow Card, Ekra, 27′
OC – Yellow Card, Villanueva, 55′
TBR – Red Card (Second Yellow Card), Ekra, 56′
TBR – Laurence Wyke, 66′
TBR – 88′ CJ Cochran
TBR – Fernandes (Antley), 15’
TBR – OC Own Goal, Hoffman, 43’
OC – Iloski, 57’
TBR – Harris (Fernandes), 90’
TBR: Cochran; Wyke, Castellanos, Guillen; Antley, Hilton, Ekra, Dalgaard (Harris, 55’); Fernandes, Guenzatti (Scarlett, 64’), LaCava (Etou, 81’)
OC: Rakovsky; Hoffman, Skendi, Orozco, Villanueva (Gutierrez, 82’); Iloski, Pederson, Powers, Casiple (Partida, 45’); Torres (Okoli, 45’), Illoski (Scott, 71’)