ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (June 9, 2019) – The Tampa Bay Rowdies have finally lost a USL Championship match in 2019, falling 3-1 to North Carolina FC to end a 13-game unbeaten run. Zach Steinberger gave the Rowdies a lifeline with a beautiful goal in the second half, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Here’s Three Things from the match…
1. Beaten at last
The Rowdies have finally been beaten in league play. The first loss of the season came on June 8, obviously the latest date the Rowdies have suffered their first defeat of the year, despite starting this season on March 9, the earliest date in 10 years of modern history.
While it would make some logical sense that the Rowdies can now breathe a little easier without the pressure of playing with a lengthy unbeaten run on their minds, Head Coach Neill Collins politely pushed back on that notion Saturday night in his press conference. Surely the Rowdies couldn’t have gone an entire season unbeaten, right? Maybe, maybe not.
“This group doesn’t realize just how good they are,” Collins said. “You say we can’t go undefeated, but why not? I’ve seen Celtic in the Scottish Premier League recently go unbeaten. They’ve won nine out of nine trophies. You set your own standards and that’s what this group have been doing, so they won’t feel, ‘Oh it’s ok to lose a game because you went 13 unbeaten.’ The aim now is to get to one game unbeaten and that’s what we’ll start to work for Monday.”
Even after losing, the Rowdies remain in first place in the Eastern Conference, just with a smaller gap than before. Tampa Bay leads New York Red Bulls II by three points but the Red Bulls have a game in hand. The Rowdies will attempt to bounce back next weekend at home against the Charleston Battery.
2. Changing on the fly
The Rowdies had a rare subpar night defensively Saturday night, conceding three goals in one match after conceding a total of four goals in the 13 matches prior. Tampa Bay trailed 1-0 at halftime, its first halftime deficit since March 23 and just its second all season.
Collins responded with an aggressive substitution at the break, replacing center back Mohamed Kone with forward Antoine Hoppenot to try and create a little more offensively. The new look almost immediately took a hit with Dre Fortune scoring his second goal of the match in the 48th minute, but the Rowdies did settle into rhythm and play an inspired second half until North Carolina’s third goal but a damper on things.
Hoppenot created two chances and put both of his shots on target, but North Carolina goalkeeper Alex Tambakis had a great night in goal to make six saves. The Rowdies outshot their opponent 17-4 overall but only managed one goal from their seven shots on target. Conversely, North Carolina scored three times from three shots on goal.
3. Steinberger scores
While the Rowdies will be disappointed to lose, they can take some joy in Zach Steinberger’s spectacular goal in the second half.
Tampa Bay had recovered possession in their own half and Steinberger made a great run in behind North Carolina’s defenders while Tarek Morad had the ball at his feet. Morad deserves a ton of credit for spotting the run and playing the exact kind of pass the run needed, lobbing the ball forward for Steinberger to run onto.
With the North Carolina backline badly beaten, Tambakis had to leave his line and try to make a play near the top of his box, but Steinberger beat him with a beautiful little chip for his second goal in league play this year. It was one of the nicest goals in recent memory at Al Lang.