ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Tampa Bay Rowdies booked a spot in the Eastern Conference Semi-final of the USL Championship playoffs on Saturday night, knocking off in-state rival Miami FC 3-1 in front of the home supporters at Al Lang Stadium.
Nicky Law notched the match-winner with an outstanding long-range rocket and Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti bagged a brace to push the Rowdies over the top.
“As I look across not just the people that started but the whole squad, they know this is the time of year you have to stand up and be counted and perform, and I thought they did that,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins.
The first half lacked a goal but contained plenty of tension. Shortly before the halftime whistle, the Rowdies were pleading for at least one if not two red cards to be shown to Miami. Bolu Akinyode was the first to draw the ire of the crowd, going studs out into the knee of Tampa Bay’s Dayonn Harris. Play continued as the Rowdies had the advantage, but the sequence ended with Miami center back Callum Chapman-Page, already on a yellow card, clipping Jake LaCava down just inside the box. Despite the protestations of the Rowdies, neither offense drew a card from the referee.
Law nearly put the Rowdies up off the ensuing free kick. However, the midfielder sent his curling free kick right into the top right corner.
At halftime, Collins asked the players to remain composed and continue the push for a goal. They rewarded his confidence five minutes into the second half.
After intercepting the ball, Lewis Hilton sprung teammate Leo Fernandes forward into Miami’s defensive end. Fernandes then drove down the field into Miami’s box before getting a shot off that took a deflection and then pushed wide by keeper Jake McGuire. Guenzatti immediately pounced on the rebound, beating a defender to the near post to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Like always, when Leo gets it I’m ready in the box,” said Guenzatti. “He’s either gonna take a shot or cross it and find me. The ball landed for me, Leo put a strong enough shot on and the keeper put a rebound out and it fell right there and I was the first one to react.”
Tampa Bay allowed Miami to level the match five minutes later through self-inflicted error. With the Rowdies failing to clear from their own box, Miami’s Joaquin Rivas swiped the ball off of defender Laurence Wyke to fire a shot on target. Keeper Phil Breno got a good touch on the attempt but not enough to prevent it from trickling across the line.
The Rowdies immediately answered in the 59th minute, though. Guenzatti helped initiate the go-ahead goal, fighting off Joshua Perez at the endline to poke the ball toward Dayonn Harris, who immediately whipped in a cross. Miami headed the delivery out of the box but right into the path of Law, who put his laces through a strike right into the bottom left corner.
“As a midfielder, you try to get the edge of the box and just hope the ball comes out,” said Law. “It came at me really quick, so I made up my mind that I needed to hit the ball, but I didn’t expect to hit as cleanly as that. I was delighted it did. That gave us a quick re-gain of the lead.”
With the lead again, the Rowdies never looked in danger of conceding and added a third in the 70th minute. Another dangerous ball by Harris, this time off a short corner kick, was headed down in the vicinity of Guenzatti, who volleyed the ball back across goal and past McGuire.
“I thought from the first minute of the second half, we played very well and controlled the game,” said Collins. “A couple of mistakes on the goal we gave up, but really outside of that I thought it was an excellent performance. The players take so much credit for how they handled a really difficult team.”
The Rowdies now travel to face Memphis 901 FC in the Eastern Conference Semi-final next Saturday, October 29. The match will be broadcast on ESPN+.
TBR – Guenzatti, 50’
MIA – Rivas, 55’
TBR – Law, 59’’
TBR – Guenzatti, 70’
TBR: Breno; Antley, Wyke, Castellanos, Guillen; Hilton, Law, Fernandes, Harris, LaCava, Guenzatti
MIA: McGuire; Craig, Chapman-Page, Segbers, Stanley; Akinyode, Williams, Valot; Rivas, Perez, Murphy