ST. PETERSBURG — Against a heavily overmatched Under-23 team from the Jacksonville Armada program, the Rowdies had an easy time Tuesday. Tampa Bay prevailed 3-0 in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup before an announced crowd of 2,490 at Al Lang.
Tampa Bay advances to the third round of the Cup on May 31 against today's Miami-South Florida Surf winner. Miami would host the Rowdies, or the Surf would come to Al Lang.
Several players got rare starts for Tampa Bay, and all three goal scorers had yet to log 70 minutes on the season. Defender Kyle Porter opened the scoring, Alex Morrell added one right before the break, and Martin Paterson scored in the 69th minute.
A yearlong tournament featuring clubs from every level of U.S. Soccer, the Open Cup matches sides that would otherwise not square off. Jacksonville U23 belongs to the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.
Morrell's first goal as a Rowdie came against his University of North Florida teammate, Juan Fajardo — after some pregame trash talking.
"He's a really good keeper. Unfortunately I had to put it past him," Morrell said. "I felt really good. Really happy to play."
Less than three minutes in Porter saw Fajardo off his line and lofted in a shot from 40 yards out. Fajardo, falling into the goalmouth, got both hands on the ball and dropped it front of the goal line. But the ball had crossed the plane as it bounced backward.
Morrell made it 2-0 when he intercepted a pass just outside the penalty box and sped past two defenders, fighting off a shove, and on a tight angle from the left side cut the ball back past Fajardo and inside the right post.
With Jacksonville's Dener Dos Santos shown a straight red card for a clenched fist to the face of Morrell, the Rowdies enjoyed a man advantage for the final half hour. Paterson, making his first start, pounded home one of several quality crosses Darwin Jones made in the second half.
With Tampa Bay back into league play Friday (at Toronto) several starters including captain Joe Cole had the night off. Tam Mkandawire, the captain in 2015, hadn't gotten into a game at all this season but started Tuesday. Popular midfielder Keith Savage also saw his first playing time.