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Rowdies defeat Miami FC, take over first place in Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay still has some work to do in next Saturday’s regular-season finale to secure a home playoff match.
The Rowdies' Sebastian Guenzatti drives the ball down the field during the second half against the Charleston Battery on June 15, 2019, at Al Lang Stadium.
The Rowdies' Sebastian Guenzatti drives the ball down the field during the second half against the Charleston Battery on June 15, 2019, at Al Lang Stadium. [ ALLIE GOULDING | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sep. 27, 2020

MIAMI — The Rowdies moved into first place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference with a weather-delayed 1-0 win against Miami FC late Saturday at Riccardo Silva Stadium. The game ended shortly before midnight after a 2½-hour lightning delay.

Captain Sebastian Guenzatti converted the Rowdies' first corner kick opportunity into his eighth goal of the season, making it 1-0 in the 37th minute. Leo Fernandes sent the corner long to defender Jordan Scarlett, who headed it toward the goal for Guenzatti to head inside the left post.

When the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (31 points) lost to Hartford earlier, the door opened for Tampa Bay, which already had clinched a playoff berth, to take control of the top spot in the East and potential homefield advantage through the conference portion of the playoffs.

The Rowdies (10-2-3, 33 points) did their part, but they still might need one more result to secure a home playoff match. Unless Charleston (27 points) loses at Miami on Wednesday, Tampa Bay will need at least a draw against the Battery to win Group H. Charleston comes to Al Lang Stadium for next Saturday’s regular-season finale.

But first the Rowdies had to take care of business against Miami (2-8-4). Though they applied pressure throughout, Miami goalkeeper Mark Pais was exceptional. He blocked two strong efforts by Kyle Murphy in the 10th and 12th minutes, and he made an armpit save on Guenzatti, who had chested down a Mustapha Dumbaya cross in the 22nd minute.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s Jordan Scarlett was fortunate not to be called for a red card on a tackle early, and Miami bungled a perfect setup in the 26th minute.

Miami stayed in steal-a-point territory throughout the second half. A shaky offside call took away a goal early in the second half, and midfielder Tomas Granitto made a headed stop to prevent one Tampa Bay goal. Pais was equally incredible in the 85th minute when Guenzatti had a point-blank header on Lewis Hilton’s header, and Lucky Mkosana’s rebound was also stopped.

Mkosana returned for the first time since Aug. 22, but the Rowdies were still without Malik Johnson and Juan Tejada.