ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Tampa Bay Rowdies capped off the regular season with a 1-0 victory over New York Red Bulls II on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium. With the result, Tampa Bay has now recorded four straight victories heading into the playoffs starting next Saturday.
“This is the best I’ve felt about this group this year,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “It’s been a difficult year for so many reasons. The players have just kept forging ahead. They’ve shown a great deal of resilience. The last three or four weeks, we’ve seen a different side of the group in respect to how they’ve dealt with adversity.. Whether you’re in good form, bad form, indifferent form, it’s a different kind of game next Saturday. I’m certainly more happy than I was a couple months ago.”
Against New York, Tampa Bay was about as defensively dominant as any team could be. The visitors were limited to just two shots all night, neither of which were on frame. USL Academy signing Tate Johnson played a part in that defensive sturdiness on the left side of Tampa Bay’s back line. Johnson, 17, more than held his own in his first professional start and often helped the Rowdies move the ball down the field swiftly and efficiently.
“I so enjoyed watching Tate tonight.,” said Collins. “He fits seamlessly into the team. His distribution of the ball was excellent. Against the ball he was excellent.”
On the other end of the field, the Rowdies created chance after chance but only managed to break through once. In the 37th minute, midfielder Dayonn Harris delivered a cross from the right edge of the box right on the money to Leo Fernandes, who headed the ball into the back of the net.
“I thought Dayonn had a really accomplished performance,” said Collins. “When he had to do simple things, he did it. New York gave a lot of attention to him and doubled up on him. He put the cross in with a moment of quality.”
Tampa Bay failed to put the match away with a second tally, due in large part to the nine-save shift New York’s Anthony Marcucci produced in net. However, the Rowdies rarely appeared in danger of letting the opposition into the match.
The match was a physical battle, full of harsh challenges from the visitors. Both Lewis Hilton and Yann Ekra were subbed off in the first half after picking up knocks from fouls committed by New York. By the time the final whistle blew, New York had committed 28 fouls and picked up 5 yellow cards. New York was also forced to play the last 16 minutes of the match down a man after defender Omar Valencia was shown a straight red card for a late sliding challenge on Tampa Bay’s Sebastian Dalgaard.
“I thought our players handled it very well,” said Collins. “I just hope there’s not too many repercussions when it comes to injuries from that. We’ve got a couple we’ll need to assess. The players did a good job to keep the flow going and keep the tempo high. We created so many chances. It would have been nice to get the second and see how the game developed and how loose New York might have become.”
With Memphis 901 FC pulling out a 3-0 win over FC Tulsa to lock up the number two seed, the Rowdies officially sit as the third seed in the conference at the start of the playoffs. This positioning gives the Rowdies a matchup with in-state rival Miami FC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at home on Saturday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Tickets for the match can be purchased here or by calling 727-222-2000.
TBR – Leo Fernandes (Dayonn Harris), 37’
TBR: Breno; Wyke, C. Antley, Guillen; Johnson; Hilton, Ekra; Harris, Fernandes, LaCava, Guenzatti
NY: Marcucci; Ruiz, Alexandre, Salinas, Valencia; Castellanos, Wise, Adebayo-Smith, Filipe, Ofori, Plaza