ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (July 22, 2019) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies extended their stay at the top of the table with a 4-1 win over Saint Louis FC on a wet Saturday night at Al Lang.
Here’s Three Things from the match...
1. Room to breathe
The Rowdies gave themselves a little breathing room at the top of the Eastern Conference this weekend, earning a strong three points at home and getting a little help from an old friend at the same time. The Rowdies lead New York Red Bulls II by five points at the top of the table after former Rowdies forward Brandon Allen scored twice in the second half to earn Memphis 901 FC a 2-2 draw against the Red Bulls.
Heading into a big showdown against the Red Bulls this Friday night, the Rowdies will now feel a little less pressure. The last time the two teams met, the Rowdies entered the match in second place and beat the Red Bulls to move into first place. We now know that the inverse will not happen as the Rowdies have created enough breathing room at the top.
The Indy Eleven is in contention to make a run to the top of the table with two games in hand and a six point gap to the Rowdies, but with back-to-back tough road trips to No. 5 Nashville SC and No. 4 North Carolina FC on deck the next two weeks, wins cannot be assumed. Indy learned that last week with a road loss to Hartford.
Apart from three days in which Tampa Bay briefly fell to second place on tiebreakers, the Rowdies have been in first place since May 18 and are now assured of being in first place as the calendar turns to August, regardless of what happens Friday night in New Jersey.
2. Guenzatti goes for gold
After another two goals Saturday night, it’s fair to say that Sebastian Guenzatti is having the best season of his professional career. With 12 goals from 20 appearances this season, Guenzatti is just two strikes behind Phoenix Rising FC’s Solomon Asante in the race for the USL Championship’s Golden Boot. Asante scored twice in a Phoenix win on Friday night.
His contributions to Saturday night’s game went beyond the goals, though that’s obviously a good place to start. The first goal came from hard work by Leo Fernandes to beat a defender and then lob in a delivery, but don’t underestimate move toward the near post and then sudden change of direction to the back post to give himself space for the tap-in header.
The second goal was purely instinctive, waiting calmly for Lucky Mkosana’s pass and then taking a first touch to get the ball out from under his body far enough to allow him to turn and shoot. It’s the kind of composure and finishing Guenzatti has shown all season. He only took two shots on Saturday night, but both were goals.
Add in the assist for the Rowdies final goal of the night, a little backheel into the path of Caleb Richards, and it was a superb night all around for the Rowdies captain.
3. Selection gets tougher
Best of luck to Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins in picking his team and bench going forward as the Rowdies seem to be getting good contributions up and down the entire roster. It’s a great problem to have.
At forward, the Rowdies have a Golden Boot contender in Sebastian Guenzatti and a rookie in Juan Tejada that has surpassed all expectations with seven goals this season so far. But then there’s also Lucky Mkosana, who has a goal and two assists in 128 minutes since rejoining the Rowdies in a trade late last month. Add in Jaime Siaj, who finally made his season debut off the bench Saturday night, and Leon Taylor and Tampa Bay looks potent in the attack.
In midfield, Leo Fernandes looks likely to hold on to the left wing back spot for at least a few more weeks coming off a great performance with a goal and an assist against Saint Louis. On the other side, Malik Johnson looks like he can change the game at any moment with his athleticism and speed, but Shawn Barry came off the bench and provided an assist.
In central midfield, it’s getting exceedingly tough to pick only three of Dom Oduro, Jordan Doherty, Yann Ekra, Kwadwo Poku and Zach Steinberger. With Andrew Tinari on the way back from injury, it’s only going to get harder.
The good news for Rowdies fans is that this is a champagne problem. Tampa Bay is in first place in late July and there’s a chance Neill Collins hasn’t even found his best XI yet.