Late goal sends Rowdies past Ottawa

Sebastian Guenzatti scores in the 92nd minute for a 2-1 win and a return to first place in the USL Championship East.
Rowdies fans cheer on their team at a game at Al Lang Stadium last year. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times (2018)]
Rowdies fans cheer on their team at a game at Al Lang Stadium last year. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2018)]
Published June 29

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies ended Ottawa’s 10-match unbeaten streak Saturday with some late drama, as Sebastian Guenzatti’s 92nd-minute goal completed a 2-1 comeback victory before an announced crowd of 5,396 at Al Lang Stadium.

With Indy Eleven tying Louisville 1-1, the door was open for Tampa Bay to recapture the top spot in the USL Championship Eastern Conference. The Rowdies (10-1-6, 36 points) took advantage.

Second-half substitutes Malik Johnson and Lucky Mkosana combined to set up Guenzatti for a back-heeled shot, his team-leading ninth goal of the season. It was an impressive score on all fronts. Johnson tapped the ball around a defender but still had to sprint to the end line to feed Mkosana, who had close quarters to work with to send the ball to Guenzatti.

“It was the only option I had. I haven’t scored with my left (leg), and now I back-heeled it. I thought about it, and I did it, and it went in,” Guenzatti said of his split-second reaction to the pass from Mkosana, who Friday was traded to his former team from Louisville.

“I don’t think we had to wait until that (92nd) minute, but we had that little extra push. Malik, amazing going down the line, and Lucky saw me. Amazing win for us.”

Ottawa came to town with no defeats in its previous 10 contests, but with five of those games ties. And clearly, its second-half approach was to keep the score 1-1 after the Rowdies tied it nine minutes before halftime on a Juan Tejada goal.

Tampa Bay had the best of the attack in the second half but didn’t get cranked up until the 67th-minute double substitution.

“If there was any negative to the first half of the season, it would be off the bench when we needed a goal, we didn’t quite have that spark,” coach Neill Collins said. “I had so many options (Saturday). Lucky, (Kwadwo) Poku and Malik, their impact off the bench won us the game.

“The lads that start set the foundations, and at times they need people to come on and help out.”

After Ottawa took the lead in the 22nd minute, the Rowdies tied the score at 1 in the 36th on Tejada’s sixth goal of the season. Leo Fernandes, back from a four-game injury absence, lofted in a cross from the left corner that Tejada headed backward. David Najem took the ball out of the air, and it bounced perfectly back into the path of Tejada for the score.

“The coaches told us to just give (Ottawa) a hard time and press,” Mkosana said. “I feel like we brought the energy. We did a good job of going the 90 minutes and never giving up.”