ST. PETERSBURG — Sebastian Guenzatti set a Rowdies franchise record for most goals in a regular season, but Nashville had a stunning response and jumped over Tampa Bay into second place in the USL Championships’ Eastern Conference with a 2-1 victory Saturday before an announced crowd of 4,022 at Al Lang Stadium.
Substitute Kharlton Belmar rocketed home a volley in the 79th minute — on Nashville’s second shot of the half, compared with 10 for the Rowdies at the time — for the winning goal, and ex-Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens made it stand up with two clutch late saves.
The Rowdies outshot Nashville 14-2 in the second half.
“I feel so disappointed for our players, I really do,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “When you perform like that, you deserve to get something out of the game.”
Nashville moved two points ahead of the Rowdies (14-5-7, 49) in the East. Tampa Bay has a game in hand. But Indy Eleven is in a good position to also leapfrog the Rowdies in the standings. It is just two points back of them with three fewer matches played.
Nashville converted off a free kick in the 44th minute to take a 1-0 lead, but the Rowdies dominated the next long stretch. They were rewarded early in the second half when Guenzatti scored on a rebound of a shot by Kwadwo Poku. It was Guenzatti’s 14th goal of the year, a modern franchise mark (from 2010). He bettered the 13 of Georgi Hristov in 2017.
“I didn’t even know (about the record),” Guenzatti said. “Unfortunately, we played good soccer, they had those two chances they put away, we had many that we could have put away. They got the three points.”
Nashville slowly recovered and converted on a counterattack from Belmar. Pickens, battling cramps, made a clutch stop in the 88th minute when Malik Johnson broke in. He previously had stopped Juan Tejada’s solid go-ahead attempt in the 57th minute.
“In the second half I thought we were excellent in pretty much every aspect of our play,” Collins said. “Give me that performance between now and the end of the season and I’ll be a happy man.”
Nashville first went on top on a dubious free kick. Cameron Lancaster went down in a heap just outside the penalty box but was fine to take the free kick. His scoring try was saved by John McCarthy, but Lebo Moloto scored on the rebound.
“We had momentum,” Guenzatti said. “I thought the next goal was coming. We’re a very good team. We have more in the tank than we gave (Saturday.)”