HARRISON, N.J. — In three previous visits to play the New York Red Bulls II, the Rowdies lost all three matches by a combined score of 11-2.
The Rowdies broke that streak Saturday in the opening game of their USL Championship season, earning a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
Leo Fernandes, who grew up on Long Island and was playing in front of friends and family, scored the only goal in the 57th minute.
“This is a fantastic result to start the season,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “Very difficult conditions made it hard to play attractive soccer, but the players adapted fantastically well. There were many positives in regards to carrying out our game plan and of course plenty to improve on this early in the season.”
Tampa Bay’s starting lineup featured seven players acquired in the offseason, but it was two familiar faces who broke the match open in the second half.
Fernandes and Zach Steinberger played a one-two combination on the edge of the Red Bulls box before Steinberger advanced to the end line and cut the ball back for Fernandes. Fernandes curled a shot with the outside of his left foot past Red Bulls goalkeeper Willis Lapsley and into the side netting to put the Rowdies on top.
A few minutes later, Juan Tejada appeared to double the lead, pouncing on a rebound after Fernandes’ shot struck the post, but the offside flag ruled the goal no good.
New York had chances to tie, particularly in the 73rd minute, when Sebastian Elney put a header on target from point-blank range. But former Red Bulls goalkeeper Evan Louro, now playing for the Rowdies, made the save.
Tampa Bay’s new-look defense, with not only a new starting goalkeeper but three new centerbacks in front of him, limited the Red Bulls to two shots on target. Former New York defender Jordan Scarlett also made his Rowdies debut against his previous team.
“I’ve got to give a special mention to Evan and Jordan for going back to their old cub and playing so well so quickly,” Collins said. “That can be tough, but they handled it fantastically well.”