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Guenzatti celebrates three years on the Rowdies with a goal and a win

The Rowdies beat Charleston Battery thanks to goals from Sebastian Guenzatti and Malik Johnson.

ST. PETERSBURG — Sebastian Guenzatti has tenure in the Rowdies’ lineup. He starts at forward, scores plenty and sports the captain’s arm band.

He joined the club three years ago to the day Friday and celebrated accordingly.

Guenzatti scored for the 28th time with the Rowdies to commemorate his anniversary. In doing so, he helped Tampa Bay to a 2-0 win over Charleston at Al Lang Stadium.

“Always pleased to see your striker score; it’s always good when the strikers are getting chances and scoring goals,” coach Neill Collins said. “Pleased for Seba.”

After starting the season with two wins, the Rowdies (3-0-2) entered the game on the heels of back-to-back draws.

It was poetic that Guenzatti was the one to secure the win. But it also had big implications for the Rowdies in their United Soccer League Championship group. The Rowdies and Charleston are 1-2, respectively, in Group H, comfortably ahead of Atlanta and Miami. With the win, Tampa Bay expanded its lead to five points over Charleston.

The top two teams from each of the league’s eight groups created for play in the coronavirus-altered season advance to the playoffs.

Guenzatti’s goal, his third of the season, came on a through ball from midfielder Jordan Doherty. Guenzatti beat his defender 1-on-1, worked his way into the box and flicked a shot off a defender and past Charleston goalkeeper Phil Breno in the 40th minute for a 1-0 lead.

Up to that point, the match has been slow-moving. Both teams had sloppy starts ridden with fouls. The Rowdies and Battery were hit with two yellow cards each. Charleston forward and captain Jarad van Schaik was sent off in the 81st minute after receiving his second yellow card, for a hand ball.

Playing a man down, Charleston could not come up with an equalizing score and ended up yielding a second goal, to midfielder Malik Johnson.

“That’s what you come to watch soccer for,” Collins said of Johnson. “Players like that, they get you off your seat and you feel a buzz when he gets the ball.”

Johnson had missed much of the action to date while recovering from an ankle injury. He entered the game in the 71st minute and didn’t need long to put the game away.

The Rowdies put together their best performance of the year on paper. It was the first time they scored in both halves of a game, and it was their second shutout and first since the opener. Still, Collins saw room to improve.

“I thought the performance probably didn’t deserve a clean sheet,” Collins said. “I think we could have easily scored more goals.”

Contact Kyle Wood at Follow him @Kkylewood.