St. PETERSBURG — Much as he has throughout his career with the Rowdies, Sebastian Guenzatti came through once again Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium. The high-scoring forward had the clinching goal on a penalty kick in the 79th minute, leading Tampa Bay to a 2-1 win over in-state rival Miami FC.
Guenzatti’s team-leading fourth goal of the season, a right-footed shot into the right side of the net, beat goalkeeper Connor Sparrow, who lunged the wrong way. It came after Miami defender Paco Craig was called for a hand ball in the box.
“He’s a leader. He’s everything we want the club to be about,” coach Neill Collins said of Guenzatti, Tampa Bay’s scoring leader for each of the past two seasons and captain since 2018.
The defending Eastern Conference champions improved to 4-0 to remain the lone unbeaten team in the conference while Miami dropped to 2-2. It marked the first of four regular-season matchups between the Atlantic Division rivals.
“It was great to draw first blood, but we’re not taking anything for granted,” Collins said. “I’m just pleased to win tonight. I felt in the second half we had a lot more control of our game. I felt that we threatened at the right time and I felt the goal was coming. I thought in the end we deserved to win.”
The teams traded goals in the first half, with Tampa Bay opening the scoring in the 12th minute. Steevan Dos Santos took a cross from Lewis Hilton off a corner kick and headed the ball into the lower right side of the net from the center of the box.
Dos Santos, who scored his third goal of the season, had several other chances, including a close-range bid six minutes later but Sparrow made the save.
Miami evened it up in the 38th minute with a high, looping free kick from Billy Forbes that fell into the net just under the crossbar.
The Rowdies nearly had a go-ahead goal in the 42nd minute, but Conner Antley, coming in from the right side, led Dos Santos just a bit too much as he broke free in the middle.
Not unexpectedly, the game was a bit chippy from the outset. The teams combined for 25 fouls, 14 by the Rowdies, and both sides were shown yellow cards. Hilton had Tampa Bay’s lone yellow while Miami got three — one each to Junior Palacios, Bolu Akinyode and Craig.
On Craig’s late foul, Dos Santos sustained a lower-body injury and had to be helped to the bench. Collins did not disclose the forward’s condition.
After four straight home games to open the season, the Rowdies hit the road for the next two games, June 2 in New York and June 5 at Charlotte.
“It’s just been fantastic the last few weeks and with fans in the stands and the energy,” Collins said.