ST. PETERSBURG — Steevan Dos Santos did not outwardly celebrate his first goal as a Rowdie as a sign of respect to his former team. But he and his new squad had plenty to cheer about, primarily a second straight 3-0 victory to start the season as Tampa Bay took down visiting Pittsburgh at Al Lang Stadium.
Dos Santos pounded in a first-half header and also played a large role in the second goal, getting fouled in the penalty box, which led to Sebastian Guenzatti’s 75th-minute conversion.
“I think tonight he showed why we brought him here,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said of Dos Santos. “Fantastic headed goal, thought his all-around performance was good, excellent performance. It can be difficult playing against your former team; there can be a lot of pressure.”
It took about 15 minutes for Tampa Bay to settle into a pattern of clear possession, as the visitors were intent on biding their time toward a counterattack. Pittsburgh’s strategy almost worked as it produced two early second-half chances to equalize.
Minutes after the break, Jordan Dover sent in a cross that forward Tommy Williamson was able to volley, but barely over the goal. In the 68th minute Louis Perez, who was playing for UCF in February, sent a brilliant pass forward, springing 21-year-old Alex Dixon ahead of the pack — only for Rowdies defender Jordan Scarlett to catch up and produce a sliding clearance.
“When you score three goals, the strikers take plaudits but when you look back at those moments in the game, that’s what the center backs are there for,” Collins said. “If they do that consistently, that’s when they get the plaudits. Really pleased that Jordan made that intervention, and you’ve got to do that at important times of the game.”
Plenty of Rowdies impacted the victory but it was definitely Dos Santos’ show. For the first hour he was involved with just about every Rowdies scoring opportunity. His 30th-minute goal was the result of a strong build-up from wing Conner Antley. The ball ended up making its way over to Leo Fernandes, who was making his first start of the season. Two Rowdies leaped to try and head in Fernandes’ cross, but it flew by them to Dos Santos, who drilled the chance.
He started to react instinctively, but quickly put his arms down in an obvious sign not to show up his former teammates.
“If it was me I’d be lapping the stadium. I think it’s just Steevan’s personality and the respect that he’s got. Steevan’s impressed everyone with his demeanor, and most of all with his performances. Glad that he’s got a goal,” Collins said.
With his break in Saturday, which led to both feet taken out from underneath by Riverhounds keeper Danny Vitiello, Dos Santos set up yet another score. Rowdies captain Guenzatti smashed in the PK for his third of the year. Guenzatti also produced the deft pass that sent in Dos Santos.
Then it was time for youngster Jordan Adebayo-Smith to get in on the act. Rowdies defender Forrest Lasso headed the ball upfield 20 yards, and it bounced goal-ward with a Pittsburgh player intent on screening off Adebayo-Smith for Vitiello to gather. But the 20-year-old had other ideas, sprinting into the box and when Vitiello whiffed on a clearance it was an easy 3-0 score in the 84th minute.
Rowdies keeper Evan Louro only faced one shot on goal but produced a dandy tipped save of a 15th-minute Williamson free kick. Tampa Bay outshot Pittsburgh (0-1) 12-7 and Dos Santos was able to produce another highlight, dribbling the ball seven straight times off his head.