The Tampa Bay Rowdies notched their fourth consecutive win on Saturday night, defeating Rio Grande Valley FC 3-0 at H-E-B Park. After playing to a scoreless stalemate through the first hour, the Rowdies torched their hosts for three goals in the final half hour, including a brace by midfielder Charlie Dennis.
“I thought in the second half the players just went to another level and got their legs back under them,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “From the first whistle of the second half, I thought there was only one team that was going to go on and win that game.”
Tampa Bay started the night positively, but the hosts quickly took hold of the momentum throughout the rest of the opening half. Attacker Christiano Francois had two promising chances to put the hosts up early but was denied by two outstanding Rowdies defensive stops. First, center back Freddy Kleemann perfectly timed a sliding challenge in the box to prevent Francois from getting a shot off. Shortly after that, Rowdies keeper Connor Sparrow waited until the exact right moment to stretch out and dive to his left to stymie the forward in a one-on-one opportunity.
In total, Sparrow was called on to make five saves in the first half and ended up finishing the night with seven saves, bringing his career total up to 300 USL Championship regular season saves. With Sparrow in net, the Rowdies have posted four clean sheets on the year.
“Connor’s all-around composure and distribution of the ball was good,” said Collins. “When we needed him to make saves he was there. I think he’ll be the first to tell you his defenders threw their bodies on the line in big moments of the match. When you go through the whole team tonight, there were a lot of really big performances.”
As they did in Detroit three weeks ago, the Rowdies found their breakthrough goal from the penalty spot after defender Juan Cabezas was whistled for tripping Dennis in the box. Dennis made no mistake with an emphatic finish into the back of the net as keeper Tyler Deric dove the opposite direction.
From that point on the Rowdies were in control. Dennis added his second in the 86th minute, converting off a cross from wingback Ryan Spaulding. Dennis has now tallied a goal in four straight matches, while Spaulding has recorded an assist in each of the last three outings.
Jennings bagged Tampa Bay’s third goal with a tremendous individual effort. Holding the ball deep in the corner, Jennings spun around his mark and charged forward into the box before depositing a low strike past Deric at the near post. It’s the second goal of the season for Jennings, who was brought on at halftime of the match.
“I thought the game would suit Cal with the open spaces and I thought he really took advantage of that,” said Collins. “In possession he was fantastic. Even without his goal he had a great performance. I was so pleased to round it off with a goal in a solo effort. I was delighted for him. When you train like he does, that’s how you’re able to go out and perform like that.”
With the win the Rowdies jumped to 17 points on the year, matching Louisville City FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the Eastern Conference standings. The Charleston Battery remain atop the conference with 21 points.
“We’re about a third of the way through the season,” said Collins. “I think it gives you a good indication where everyone in the league is at. It’s very tight. From our own perspective, vast improvements in the last few games, which is really pleasing. I think the potential of the team is exciting. I think we’ve got to remember that we’ve got guys on the bench that have got a lot to contribute and we’ve got guys that are injured that have a lot to contribute. It’s really just down to us what we can achieve with the potential that we’ve got.”
Next up the Rowdies return home to host Colorado Spring Switchbacks FC on Saturday, May 27 at Al Lang Stadium. Tickets for the match can be purchased here or by calling the sales office during normal business hours at 727-222-2000.
TBR – Dennis, 63rd minute (Penalty)
TBR – Dennis (Spaulding), 86th minute
TBR – Jennings, 89th minute
TBR: Sparrow, Antley, Kleemann (Jennings, 46′), Lasso, Guillen, Doherty, Ekra, Dennis, Spalling, Harris (Dalgaard, 79′), Williams (Schröter, 79′)
RGV: Deric, Benitez, Ackwei, Ricketts, Coronado, Davila, Cabezas, Ruiz, Ritandole, Cabrera, Francois