ST. PETERSBURG — The last time the Rowdies played Atlanta United 2, they were shut out at home for the first time in almost two years, despite almost doubling Atlanta’s shot total. Early in Saturday’s rematch at Al Lang Stadium, it appeared forward Sebastián Guenzatti was not about to let the Rowdies walk away this time without a win.
In the 28th minute, Guenzatti had his first shot on goal from the center of the box after taking an assist from midfielder Kwadwo Poku, but the kick was too high, sailing just over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Guenzatti linked up with Poku yet again, receiving another pass at the top of the box and slipping it past the diving Atlanta goalkeeper in the bottom left corner to secure the 1-0 victory for the Rowdies.
"Sometimes the easy ones are the hardest ones. I was too open. Sometimes I need to feel some people in the box," Guenzatti said about his miss just before the strike. "But I got back, and the next play I got the goal.
"Poku always turns amazingly, and he saw me, he played me a ball in the box, and my first touch was good enough to leave me with a wide open shot."
The Rowdies (9-12-7) took control early in Saturday’s match, notching five first-half corner kicks and four shots on goal. Atlanta United 2 (5-14-8) didn’t have a single shot on goal before the break, with their first of the game coming in the 73rd minute.
"I think the defense starts from the attack in terms of, we pressed high, they put in an awful lot of effort, which helped," Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. "Attacks start from defense, and defense starts from the attack. And if you ask any of those backs, Guenzatti, Georgi (Hristov) … they really set the tone for us at the top."
As the Rowdies sought an insurance goal, midfielder Zachary Portillos had two breakaways early in the second half, putting him in a one-on-one standoff with Atlanta’s goalkeeper. The first attempt was blocked, and his second was too high. Similarly, Guenzatti had a chance at goal No. 2 in the 85th minute, receiving a pass from the top corner of the box, but an Atlanta defender got a foot on Guenzatti’s strike, causing it to just barely miss the net.
It seems as if that was the theme of the night after Guenzatti’s first-half score, a series of missed opportunities and failed finishes. But Collins, pleased with his team’s command of the game, is happy to take the victory with a lesson on the side.
"We dominated the match, I thought some of our play was excellent … but that final end product is at times, a better pass, a better cross," Collins said. "I think that’s just something we need to remedy."