The Tampa Bay Rowdies picked up a third straight win on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium, knocking off El Paso Locomotive 3-1. Leo Fernandes put his mark on the match with two goals and a pivotal pass to set up another.
Wednesday served as El Paso’s regular-season finale, and the Western Conference side needed a win to have any chance at securing a playoff berth on the weekend. The Rowdies were equally motivated to take all three points in order to keep pressure on Memphis 901 FC for the number two seed in the Eastern Conference.
“The work rate that the boys put in to close down, try and disrupt El Paso was excellent,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “I felt on the basis of the work that we did and the quality in our play, the only disappointment is that we didn’t take more of the opportunities we had. But it was a really positive performance.”
Fernandes opened the scoring for the Rowdies 16 minutes into the match. After passing the ball out to the left flank for Jake LaCava, Fernandes continued his run to the far post, where he was rewarded with a good cross from LaCava to hammer home.
The Brazilian also helped set up Tampa Bay’s second tally of the night in the 43rd minute. Collecting a loose ball on the left side of the box, Fernandes took his time before playing a pass between the legs of a defender to Sebastian Guenzatti in front of goal. Guenzatti’s initial attempt was saved by keeper Evan Newton, but the Rowdies captain cleaned up on the rebound to double the lead. The tally is Guenzatti’s third goal over the last two games and his fifth overall on the season.
El Paso began to hold the ball more in the second half and enjoyed a spell of play that included their lone goal of the night as Ander Eguiluz connected on a corner kick at the near post to get one by Rowdies keeper Phil Breno.
Despite conceding a goal, the Rowdies were rarely in danger of giving up a second the rest of the night and looked the more threatening side. Fernandes had chance to extend the lead from the penalty spot in the 68th minute but had his attempt denied by a kick-save from Newton.
“You’re playing against a team that’s got to win, they’ve got to come out, they’ve got to try and keep the ball,” said Collins. “As soon as they lose it we can take that opportunity to transition and I thought we did that really well. Probably the ideal game to have against a good team heading into the playoffs.”
Tampa Bay’s third goal demonstrated a textbook transitional attack, as well a phenomenal individual display by Fernandes. After receiving a pass from Yann Ekra in his own end of the field, Fernandes was off to the races. Fernandes split two defenders at midfield before pushing past a third and then sprinting forward to the box to deposit a low strike past Newton.
With the win, the Rowdies stay within reach of the number two seed in the east. In order to secure the spot, the Rowdies must defeat New York Red Bulls II on Saturday at Al Lang Stadium and hope Memphis loses or draws against FC Tulsa.
Saturday’s regular-season finale at Al Lang will include $5 Bud Light beer all match long and a post match fireworks show. Fans can secure their tickets by clicking here or calling 727-222-2000.
TBR – Fernandes (LaCava), 16’
TBR – Guenzatti, 43’
TBR – Fernandes (Ekra), 90+1
TBR: Breno; C. Antley, Scarlett, Castellanos, Guillen; Law, Hilton, Fernandes; Dalgaard, Guenzatti, LaCava
ELP: Newton; Borelli, Equiliz, Bahner, Rose; Ryan, Calvillo, Abarca, Garcia, Gomez, Solignac