The Tampa Bay Rowdies completed their regular-season sweep of Miami FC on Saturday night at FIU Stadium, knocking off their in-state rivals 2-0.
As they have more often than not the last few weeks, the Rowdies found themselves with limited depth on Saturday. An injury to midfielder Jake Areman and an unexpected illness for veteran Yann Ekra late in the week, on top of the already lengthy list of injured players, left the Rowdies with just four players available on the bench in Miami.
“The biggest thing tonight was the effort, said Rowdies Head Coach Nicky Law. “We came down here with three outfield substitutes so we knew as the game went on that it was going to be tough. The players gave everything they had tonight. I couldn’t have asked for more. All the excuses were there again for us but the players just rolled their sleeves up and got the job done.”
Charlie Dennis came inches away from grabbing a go-ahead goal for Tampa Bay in the opening minutes. The Englishman fired a long range strike past keeper Adrian Zendejas, but the ball rattled off the crossbar and bounced down just in front of the goal line.
The Rowdies finally pulled ahead in the 36th minute as the two sides came out of a hydration break. Rowdies keeper Connor Sparrow initiated the sequence with a perfectly placed long ball for JJ Williams at midfield. With just one touch, Williams threaded a pass forward for Cal Jennings to collect. Cutting across the box, Jennings took aim at goal with a shot toward the bottom left corner that Zendejas got his fingertips to it, but his touch wasn’t strong enough to keep the ball from crossing the line.
Sparrow had an outstanding night in net for Tampa Bay, thwarting five efforts on target and marshaling the squad in front of him to secure the clean sheet. In the 33rd minute, Sparrow produced an outstanding reflex save to deny forward Florian Valot from point blank range. 20 minutes later, Sparrow stretched out to his right for a diving save on Ryan Telfer.
Miami kept the Rowdies under consistent pressure throughout the second half, yet the Rowdies were always up to the task of stopping the final effort. Tampa Bay’s back line in total combined for 11 clearances and 9 blocks on the night.
“Every player was crucial tonight,” said Law. “Connor Sparrow and the back line will take a lot of plaudits for the blocks, but it was a complete team effort. Everybody who came here tonight contributed to this result.”
As the match entered the final stages, the Rowdies began to push forward and find dangerous spaces in the Miami’s defense end. That momentum eventually led to a chance to double the lead from the penalty spot in the 87th minute after forward Jake LaCava was tripped in the box. Dennis stepped up and calmly converted past Zendejas, notching his ninth tally of the season.
“It was a complete effort from our players and our staff effort tonight,” said Law. “We spoke before the Tulsa match about coming to these difficult places, with difficult field conditions, and grinding out wins. We’ve done that the last two weeks. These are important three points for us. We knew it was going to be a tough game but he had to get the three points tonight. We’ve got some big games ahead and we’ve got to keep racking up the points.”
The Rowdies return home next Saturday, September 2 to host Hartford Athletic FC at 7:30 p.m. ET.
TBR – Jennings (Williams), 36th minute
TBR – Dennis (penalty), 87th minute
TBR: Sparrow, Antley, Lasso, Kleemann, Guillen, Doherty, Dennis, LaCava, Williams, Jennings, Perez
MIA: Zendejas, Segbers, Ofeimu, Craig, Stanley, Cabral, Akinyode, Telfer, Valot, Salazar, Rivas