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Tampa Bay Rowdies lose first game of season, 1-0 at Charleston

“We had far too many players that had off nights,” Tampa Bay coach Neill Collins says after his team’s lead in the Group H standings shrinks to 1 point.
Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Neill Collins runs practice at Al Lang Stadium on Aug. 4, 2020.
Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Neill Collins runs practice at Al Lang Stadium on Aug. 4, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Aug. 30, 2020

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — Charleston handed the Rowdies their first loss of the season, 1-0 Saturday night at Patriots Point Soccer Complex. It was the fourth straight win for Charleston and pulled the Battery within a point of Tampa Bay (5-1-3, 21 points) in the Group H standings.

After a first half that saw Tampa Bay fail to record a shot and fall behind on a goal by rookie Stavros Zarokostas in the 22nd minute, the Rowdies picked up the intensity. But Charleston, playing with just one forward, was consistent throughout in dissolving any serious buildup by the Rowdies.

“We had far too many players that had off nights,” said coach Neill Collins, who also credited Charleston’s effort. “Sometimes you carry one or two (underperforming players), but tonight we had seven or eight.”

The Rowdies saved their most urgent efforts on goal for a frantic five-minute stoppage time. Late sub Lewis Hilton got loose in the penalty box, one of the few moments a Rowdies player had room to work in deep, but he skied an attempt well over the goal. Moments later the Rowdies pleaded for a call on a possible Charleston handball in the box but to no avail.

Though the Rowdies are not in danger of missing out on the USL Championship playoffs, finishing behind Charleston means a first-round match on the road. Group runnersup travel in the first round regardless, although point total determines the host of the remaining rounds.

The Rowdies held a 60-40 edge in first-half possession but were outshot 7-0. Charleston was strong on the counterattack, with defender Leland Archer springing Angelo Kelly, who had an early shot trickle inches wide of the left post.

A similar situation five minutes later on the left flank put the Battery ahead. With the outside of his foot, Kelly, just before the midfield stripe, managed a 30-yard pass that bounced over Rowdies defender Jordan Scarlett. Zarokostas, who last fall was playing for the University of Rhode Island (28 career goals), displayed prowess by cutting the ball into the box and unloading a curler into the upper-right corner.

It was almost 2-0 just past the 30-minute mark, but this time Scarlett blocked Zarokostas’ effort on another counter. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay mustered some modestly promising runs only to have a Battery defender get a last-second foot in the way.

However, the Rowdies came out of the locker room in the second half with a discernibly greater sense of purpose and in less than two minutes almost produced an equalizing goal. Off the game’s lone corner kick, Juan Tejada headed one down and Sebastian Guenzatti did well to screen goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky. But Kuzminsky held firm for the save.

A few minutes later Guenzatti’s sliding half-volley off a Johnson cross had the look of goal but instead slammed into the side netting. Charleston had several putaway bids come close, too, with Rowdies goalie Evan Louro forced to dive to stop back-to-back Battery efforts with about 15 minutes left. 

“They created more chances than just their goal. Getting beat, you can accept, but we just didn’t perform,” Collins said.

Tampa Bay outshot Charleston 9-5 in the second half. 

Collins went with three forwards for a second consecutive game. Midfielder Dom Oduro returned from a one-game injury, but he was replaced at halftime by Yann Ekra. Leo Fernandes, recently back from an injury, was able to make his first start in the past four matches but was subbed out with Guenzatti an hour in.

Tampa Bay has two matches at home this coming week, against Miami FC (Wednesday) and Philadelphia Union II (next Sunday). Both opponents have a single victory each, though Miami drew with the Rowdies at Al Lang on Aug. 16. 

After that it’s another trip to Charleston. The teams have split their two games thus far, and the regular-season finale could prove large on Oct. 3 in St. Petersburg.