Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti pounced on a rebound in the first half for his seventh goal of the season, and the Rowdies made it hold up for a 1-0 win over surging Hartford Athletic on Saturday in Connecticut.
Tampa Bay had two goals taken off the board during the game, and Hartford had a chance to tie on a questionable penalty call in the second half. Still the Rowdies (7-2, 21 points) managed to knock off Hartford and reestablish first place overall in the USL Championship.
“There were some decisions that certainly were going against us. But the boys really stood up to be counted,” said coach Neill Collins. “Hats off to the lads. I don’t know that I’ve ever been prouder of the players. Lot of heart, lot of character.”
With Pittsburgh having won on Friday, the Rowdies entered the match one point in front atop the Atlantic Division. A Hartford win would have drawn the hosts within two points with two games in hand.
Hartford had its chances. Forward Juan Carlos Obregon broke in on goal to rip a dangerous shot, only to have Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro come up with a reflex save in the 10th minute. Late in the first half, Obregon again threatened, with a chipped shot that beat Louro, but defender Aaron Guillen came to the rescue with a clearing header.
“The whole team was connected tonight. From front to back, we held a very compact shape, and that was good,” said Collins. “Aaron’s just Mr. Consistent for us. Excellent intuitions as a defender, that’s the art of defending to make those clearances. Have to give credit to my back three tonight in tough circumstances.”
Guillen could have been on the rough end of a Hartford goal as he was whistled for a questionable foul in the penalty box in the 55th minute. Younes Boudadi was heading away from the goal and Guillen attempted to win the ball, but he contacted Boudadi, who went to the turf in a heap drawing the penalty call.
However, Obregon skied his effort several feet over the crossbar to waste the chance.
“I thought it was a weak penalty,” Collins said. “Aaron came over. If anything, (Boudadi) kicked him. It’s part and parcel of it, and it’s what really tests you. You don’t want to be looking for excuses, and the guys certainly didn’t look for any tonight.”
Tampa Bay certainly could have considering it was without several scoring options due to injury and only had four substitutes available. Sebastian Dalgaard, making just his third start of the season, created the Rowdies’ best two chances of the night with nearly identical crosses from the right side to Leo Fernandes.
Fernandes’ 16th-minute shot was saved and cleared. But in the 33rd minute, goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell’s initial save on Fernandes went to Guenzatti for the tap-in.
“Another goal. Just leads from the front, on the spot,” Collins said Guenzatti. “Seb Dalgaard, I thought he and Leo Fernandes both (performed) well.”
The Rowdies had two goals waved off. Forrest Lasso’s header in the 25th minute was overturned by a foul off the ball, and Dayonn Harris’ goal on a perfect cross by Lewis Hilton was wiped out by a mysterious offsides call in the second half.
“The offside goal from Dayonn, so disappointing, was a great goal from our point of view. Two-nil with 30 minutes left ... and the goal from the set piece, I can’t see the foul,” Collins said. “It’s huge. I’m pleased their performance got rewarded because there were a couple of moments there where I thought it was going to get taken from them, not deservingly. Especially (given) the circumstances, having kind of a threadbare squad, stepping up tonight. Tampa Bay Rowdies fans should be proud of those guys wearing the crest.”