ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies scored two goals within a two-minute span of the second half to break a tie with Birmingham Legion for a 4-2 victory Saturday night and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals of the USL Championship playoffs.
The Legion had tied the quarterfinal match with two goals in a six-minute stretch earlier in the second half.
“I’d love to say it was all part of the plan, but I’d be lying,” Tampa Bay coach Neill Collins said.
The Rowdies, making their third playoff appearance in four USL Championship seasons, improved to 11-3-3 and host Charleston in next Saturday’s conference semifinal. Charleston defeated Charlotte 2-1 in extra time.
Lucky Mkosana’s header into the short right side of the net off a feed from Malik Johnson in the 78th minute gave the Rowdies the lead for good, 3-2. They increased it two minutes later on Leo Fernandes’ goal off a pass from midfielder Sebastian Guenzatti.
“The response was fantastic,” Collins said. “They showed a lot of character, of course. Hopefully we don’t have too many more like that, but if we do, we know we have plenty of time left in the game.”
Guenzatti gave the Rowdies a 2-0 lead in the 38th minute with a high shot off a crossing pass from Sebastian Dalgaard. After scoring, Guenzatti hopped over the advertising boards behind the opposing net to celebrate with fans as a handful of teammates joined in.
Jordan Doherty scored the Rowdies’ first goal in the eighth minute. Off a corner kick from Zach Steinberger, Doherty settled the ball before taking a shot from the top of the penalty box and placing it high into the upper left corner of the goal.
Birmingham (7-6-4) tied it midway through the second half. Its first goal came off a midair kick from Prosper Kasim, who beat Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro with a low shot into the right side of the net. Six minutes later, Bruno Lapa sent a shot into the same spot off a feed from Neco Brett.
“That’s what playoff football’s going to be like,” Collins said. “When a team’s behind, they throw caution to the wind. That’s part and parcel for the playoffs.”