ST. PETERSBURG, FL – It was not a performance to remember for the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium, but in the end the Green & Gold got the job done with a 2-1 win over Hartford Athletic thanks to goals tallied in the both first half and second half stoppage time.
With the result and Miami FC’s loss to Indy Eleven, the Rowdies have clinched a spot in the USL Championship playoffs for the fifth straight season.
“It’s great to clinch a playoff spot tonight,” said Rowdies Head Coach Nicky Law. “The players have put themselves in a fantastic position with everything that’s gone on this year. But there’s eight games left and lots of points to play for. We’re really focused on giving ourselves as many home games in the playoffs as possible. We can’t rest on our laurels now. We’ve got to lock in and refocus now to push to finish as high as possible.”
The Rowdies found themselves trailing only 13 minutes into the match when Elvis Amoh turned center back Forrest Lasso outside the box and charged forward before hammering a shot into the back of the net.
“We kind of did everything we didn’t want to do to start the game,” said Law. “My biggest fear going into the game was complacency and there was definitely a little bit of that in the first half. It was the poorest performance we’ve had since I’ve been here. But I have to say, the players dug in and got the three points. I do have to praise them for getting us over the line. Sometimes, this time of year, you’ve just got to win like that.”
Tampa Bay found their way back to level terms just before the halftime whistle. After neutralizing a Hartford corner kick in the second minute of first half stoppage time, the ball fell for Rowdies midfielder Charlie Dennis. Scanning down the field, Dennis used his first touch to launch a long ball forward for Cal Jennings to collect. Jennings charged into the final third, cut inside to his left, and rocketed a shot into the top left corner.
The Rowdies left it late to find their winner. In the first minute of second half stoppage time, midfielder Jordan Doherty whipped in a dangerous cross from the right flank for Lucky Mkosana at the near post. The play was broken up at the near post, but the rebound fell favorably for Tampa Bay’s Ariel Martinez. The veteran took one touch to create space and then slammed his second touch past keeper Marvyn Dorchin.
“Both goals were top goals, probably our only two real moments of magic on the night. The pass from Charlie and the run and then finish from Cal was unbelievable. Ariel’s goal was equally as good, to have that skill and composure late in the game. We know he has that in him. We’re trying to use him in the right moments and it worked for us tonight. I’m delighted for Ariel.”
With the win, the Rowdies move to within one point of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Rowdies are in the driver’s seat for first place in the east as they have two games in hand on Pittsburgh.
Next up, the Rowdies travel to Memphis 901 FC for a midweek clash on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET. The match can be streamed on ESPN+.
HFD – Amoh, 13’
TBR – Jennings (Dennis), 45+2’
TBR – Martinez, 90+1′
TBR: Sparrow, Kleemann Lasso, Guillen, Antley, Doherty, Hilton, Harris, LaCava, Dennis, Jennings
HFD: Dorchin, Lgoue, Lapert, Hodge, Apolon, Rito, Lewis, Merrill, Barrera, Hoppenot, Amoh