The Rowdies picked up all three points in a showdown with FC Tulsa at ONEOK Field on Friday night. JJ Williams recorded a goal and an assist to propel the Rowdies to a 2-1 victory, the club’s first road win since July 1.
“Tonight is a big win,” said Rowdies Head Coach Nicky Law. “I’m hoping we can look forward and not look back now. We’re aiming high and hopefully tonight is a shot in the arm to give us a lot of confidence going forward.”
Cal Jennings came close to opening the scoring before the first minute had expired in the match, winning a 50-50 challenge in the final third before poking an attempt toward goal that rolled just left of the frame.
The hosts mounted their own early chances as well. Rowdies keeper Connor Sparrow was forced to make a stellar save to deny a header by Patrick Seagrist in the 4th minute. Two minutes later, Sparrow was called on again to parry away a long range strike from Justin Malou.
Following Tulsa’s early opportunities, Tampa Bay took hold of the match. Jennings had another promising effort in the box blocked, while forward Jake LaCava lifted an effort over the goal after splendid teammate Yann Ekra played a splendid ball over the top to free him for a run at the keeper.
Despite earning ten corner kick chances in the first 45 minutes, the Rowdies went into the locker room in a scoreless stalemate. However, that changed five minutes into the second half when Jennings broke the deadlock. Receiving a perfectly-weighted through ball from Williams, Jennings drove forward into the box and fired a right-footed shot past keeper Michael Nelson.
Williams did not wait long to double the advantage. In the 59th minute, LaCava rifled an attempt that was blocked by Nelson. The rebound fell at the feet of a Tulsa defender, but Williams pounced to swipe the ball away before pushing it past another defender and chipping a finish over Nelson.
“We demand a lot from JJ and his second half performance tonight was fantastic,” said Law. “He led the line really well with great flick ons and he held the ball well. It was good to see him rewarded with his goal.”
Tulsa pulled within one tally in the 76th minute after Sparrow was whistled for a foul in the box trying to stymie an attack and Goodrum stepped to spot for a successful conversion. With Goodrum’s goal, Tulsa found new life and began to put the Rowdies into some uncomfortable situations. They managed to put the ball in the goal once on a scrum in front of Tampa Bay’s net after a free kick, but the goal was waved off for offside.
“For 70 minutes, it was the perfect away performance tonight,” said Law. “We’re still having one or two moments where we’re lacking. We made the game a lot harder than it needed to be for the last 20 minutes. We switched off a little bit and gave them opportunities to get back into the game. I’m being picky because I want to be perfect. It’s not possible, but if we have that desire to be perfect then hopefully we’ll start to cut out those slip ups.”
In spite of Tulsa’s late surge, the Rowdies did not give up a shot on goal the rest of the night and managed to ride out the result. With the win, the Rowdies move to within three points of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. The Rowdies also have two games in hand on Pittsburgh that could prove crucial in the final seeding for the playoffs.
Next up, the Rowdies travel south to face in-state rival Miami FC on Saturday, August 26 at 7 p.m. ET.
TBR – Jennings (Williams), 50th minute
TBR – Williams, 59th minute
TUL – Goodrum (penalty), 76th minute
TBR: Sparrow, Antley, Kleemann, Guillen, Doherty, Ekra (Harris, 84′), Areman, Dennis, Jennings (Perez, 68′), Williams, LaCava (Martinez, 90′)
TUL: Nelson, Malou, Bonet, Tetteh, Seagrist, Fernandez, Bird, McCabe, Yosef, Goodrum, Dyer