ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Tampa Bay Rowdies secured their spot in the 2022 USL Championship playoffs on Saturday night with an emphatic 6-1 victory over Las Vegas Lights FC at Al Lang Stadium. It’s the highest scoring shift for the Rowdies so far this season, and just the third time in club history that the Green & Gold have dropped six goals on an opponent at Al Lang.
“It’s easy to gloss over those performances because you’re expected to win those games, and it is expected,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “But you can see with other results around the league week how difficult it can be. We’ve made some tough work of these kinds of games earlier in the season. Tonight I thought we got our reward for the performance with the goals.”
Tampa Bay’s breakthrough came from an unlikely source in the 24th minute. Receiving a pass from midfielder Junior Etou, Rowdies center back Jordan Scarlett let loose with a low strike from far out that slipped through a crowd of players and into the bottom left corner.
“There’s a lot of individual moments you need reminding of him, and Scarlett’s goal is one of them,” said Collins. “A great finish, and that kind of broke the deadlock for us. From there we went on and created a lot of chances, but it could have been even more.”
Scarlett’s strike came after a dominant open for the Rowdies, who continually put the visitors under pressure throughout the match. The Rowdies held 70 percent of the possession and fired off 24 shots, while Las Vegas only mustered three shots all night.
Leo Fernandes tallied his first of the match in the 37th minute. After the Rowdies forced Las Vegas into a turnover, Etou quickly played a ball forward for Guenzatti, who then threaded a ball into the box for Fernandes. The Rowdies veteran then deftly split two defenders with a shot to the far bottom corner.
Tampa Bay’s momentum carried over into the second half, with LaCava blasting home a one-timed finish off a pass from Conner Antley in the 51st minute.
The visitors pulled one back at the hour mark with an outstanding individual effort by Cal Jennings, but that was the end of Las Vegas’ chances on the night. Fernandes promptly responded six minutes later with an absolute rocket into the goal from the top of the box.
“Neill said at halftime we didn’t want to make it a tight game, one of those games we just ride out 2-0 or 2-1 and then it becomes a little nervy at the end,” said Fernandes. “We really tried to score the third and fourth, so we were happy with the performance.”
Substitute Steevan Dos Santos nabbed Tampa Bay’s fifth tally in the 87th minute, nodding a pinpoint free kick sent in by Lewis Hilton.
Rowdies legend Lucky Mkosana then put the match to bed in the second minute of stoppage time. In his 100th appearance as a Rowdies player, Mkosana did what he did best to find the back of the net. Fernandes weighted a perfect ball into the final third for Mkosana, who pushed the ball past the keeper and swiftly poked the ball into the empty net.
“When you’ve got someone like Lucky, you just get them on the field and let them do what he does best, and that;s sniff out a goal,” said Collins. “I’m just so pleased for him. 100 appearances at any club is just such a great achievement.”
With the result, the Rowdies improve to 54 points on the season and remain four points back of Louisville City FC for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Next up, the Rowdies travel to face Charleston Battery FC on Saturday, September 10 at 7 p.m. ET.
TBR – Scarlett (Etou), 24’
TBR – Fernandes (Guenzatti), 37’
TBR- LaCava (Antley), 73’
LV – Jennings, 60’
TBR – Fernandes, 66’
TBR – Dos Santos (Hilton), 87’
TBR – Mkosana (Fernandes), 90+2’
TBR: Cochran; Wyke, Scarlett (Harris, 61′), Castellanos (Johnson, 83′), Guillen; Antley, Hilton, Etou (Law, 61′); LaCava (Dos Santos, 73′), Guenzatti (Mkosana, 83′), Fernandes
LV: Romaro; Lara, Keinan, Bjorshol (Torres, 24’), Leone (Tejada, 81′); Quezada, Crisostomo, Almaguer (Bromstedt, 81′), Iskendarian (Sepulveda, 81′); Jaime (Duenas, 64′), Jennings