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It wasn’t easy, but Rowdies start 5-0 for first time in modern era

Tampa Bay makes Jordan Adebayo-Smith’s first-half goal hold up on the road vs. the New York Red Bulls II.
The unbeaten Rowdies remain atop the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division after Wednesday night's win on the road at the New York Red Bulls II.
The unbeaten Rowdies remain atop the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division after Wednesday night's win on the road at the New York Red Bulls II. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Jun. 3
Updated Jun. 3

The Tampa Bay Rowdies are 5-0 for the first time in their modern era, emerging a 1-0 winner in a challenging first road match of the year against New York Red Bulls II in Montclair, N.J. The Rowdies extended their lead atop the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division to six points.

Pressed into starting duty with forward Steevan Dos Santos out due to injury, Jordan Adebayo-Smith came through with a first-half goal on a breakaway. But the Rowdies had to sweat out a harrowing couple of late chances by the hosts.

In the 88th minute, Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti, already on a yellow card, was called for a dangerous play when his leg went up high near a Red Bulls player’s face. The ensuing free kick from 25 yards out was saved with relative ease by keeper Evan Louro.

Less than two minutes later it looked as if the score would certainly be tied. A short corner kick led to a chipped pass, the ball falling to the feet of New York sub, 15-year-old Serge Ngoma. Just 6 yards from goal, his first attempt was blocked by Rowdies standout defender Forrest Lasso, but Ngoma had a second just-as-close look that Louro managed to get a foot on and eventually corral.

“Very tense. I don’t know how he managed to keep it out,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “That was a dicey moment that we want to try and not put ourselves in. But I mean, you win five, you’re very pleased. You know when you go on the road you’re going to face some difficult conditions and we faced that tonight.”

Tampa Bay was outshot 13-11 by a one-win team, albeit one with some reinforcements courtesy of the Red Bulls’ MLS roster. John Tolkin, coming off his first MLS start over the weekend, played the full 90 minutes in the back Wednesday and Tom Barlow, who scored 11 USL goals in 2019 but hadn’t played for Red Bulls II this season, also went the distance.

Still, the Rowdies looked headed for a comfortable victory in the first half. In the 27th minute Adebayo-Smith linked up with Zach Steinberger, whose pass to Guenzatti sent the captain in only to have his point-blank shot stopped by AJ Marcucci.

But in the 33rd minute, two players who had started one game between them this year combined for the night’s lone tally. Jordan Doherty supplied a brilliant long ball with an outswinger pass, sending Adebayo-Smith ahead of the defense. He collected it 45 yards from goal and near the top of the penalty box delivered a sure-footed strike.

In the first four matches Adebayo-Smith had only played 20 minutes, same as his age.

“His attitude’s been fantastic. He’s had to be patient for his chance. He’s constantly working on his game, working on those moments — he got it, and he took it,” Collins said.

Later in the half Conner Antley’s industrious push set up Lewis Hilton, Tampa Bay’s ace set piece taker, for a clean look but he skied it from 20 yards. New York, meanwhile, was able to mount numerous chances but Tampa Bay’s Aaron Guillen fizzled out a handful, and Lasso headed away at least a half-dozen promising long balls.

New York by no means controlled play but always looked a threat to pull even, especially in the last half hour.

“I thought for the first 60 minutes, very good, very in control,” Collins said. “Maybe lacked a little bit of quality in some moments but, credit to the Red Bulls they really pushed us hard the last 30 minutes. We couldn’t get enough control of the game, so definitely areas to improve. But lots of positives. It certainly makes it easier learning from wins than it does from defeats.”

Foster Langsdorf, on loan from Minnesota United and owner of more than 30 USL career goals, made his Rowdies debut in the second half.

Tampa Bay will stay on the road and prepare for a Saturday contest at Charlotte, a side the Rowdies topped 3-0 early in the season but has gone 2-1 in its other matches, including wins over division foes Charleston and Pittsburgh.