MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — The Rowdies still have the highest point total in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference, but that didn’t prevent another low point in Lowcountry.
The Rowdies were shut out for the second time this season, 1-0 against Charleston on Friday night. Both shutouts have been by the same score and courtesy of Charleston at Patriots Point, located in the Lowcountry Region of the state.
With three matches left in the regular season, Tampa Bay (8-2-3) remains atop the conference with 27 points, but the Battery (7-2-3) closed within three points in Group H.
“There was a lack of a lot of things,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “There was definitely a lack of urgency. ... There was a lack of quality in the final third, a lot of poor touches, losses of possession. And I hate to say this, but it was just a lack of real desire to go and win the game. Not sure why that was but that’s what it looked like.”
The way things are unfolding, the group winner might not be decided until the teams meet up again at Al Lang Stadium in the Oct. 3 season finale.
Charleston outshot the Rowdies 16-3, none of Tampa Bay’s efforts requiring a save. Although it was scoreless at halftime, Charleston held a 9-1 shot advantage with numerous opportunities in the penalty box. The Battery actually scored on a hockey-like redirect by A.J. Paterson, but he was ruled offside and the goal was waved off in the 22nd minute.
“We were relatively fortunate to get to halftime 0-0,” Collins said.
Bermuda national Zeiko Lewis gave Charleston the lead in the 54th minute. Angelo Kelly stole the ball near midfield and got it to former SMU standout Mauro Cichero, who sent Lewis in one-on-one with Rowdies defender Forrest Lasso. Lewis put on a couple of body fakes, turning Lasso around and freeing himself up for the goal.
Lewis has eight goals playing for Bermuda.
Minutes before Lewis' team-high fifth goal of this season, the Rowdies' best scoring chance was wasted as Leo Fernandes' straight-on free kick from 22 yards sailed over the goal.
The Rowdies made another push at the 80-minute mark as Fernandes delivered a corner kick that Sebastian Dalgaard couldn’t quite settle — he would have been unmarked. Later, Malik Johnson made a nifty move to free himself down the right wing, but his line drive cross was cleared away by Charleston’s Jarad Van Schaik.
The Battery played without a top offensive threat Romario Piggott (team-high 20 shots), who was injured Saturday in their match against Miami.
“Honestly, it was more about ourselves and our own misgivings than what Charleston has done, not taking anything away from them,” Collins said. “But maybe that’s down to Charleston’s setup, and maybe we have to look at doing something differently against them because it was like a carbon copy of the previous game (on Aug. 29)."
Charleston has four matches remaining, the next three against teams with one win apiece (Miami twice and Loudon FC). The Battery are off until next Sunday, making the Rowdies' trip to Atlanta United 2 on Wednesday critical. Then the Rowdies are off for 10 days, time they hope can help injured forwards Juan Tejada and Lucky Mkosana heal. Oft-injured midfielder Yann Ekra was held out Friday as a precaution, Collins said.
Collins gave Zach Steinberger and Mustapha Dumbuya their sixth starts of the season. Both were replaced at halftime.
Despite Friday’s loss, the Rowdies remain in a good spot, all but certain to be in control of their Group H fate heading into their last game with Charleston. No team in the USL Championship has a greater point total than Tampa Bay, though West leader San Antonio (undefeated) has played two fewer games.