ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies resoundingly snapped their three-game losing streak, jumping all over Loudoun United early and putting it away 3-1 Saturday night before an announced 4,920 at Al Lang Stadium.
The Rowdies outshot Loudoun 23-7. Tampa Bay (9-5-0, 27 points) pulled back even with Pittsburgh, which won Friday, atop the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division.
“Credit to the players. To a man, they all started with 100-percent focus, 100- percent intensity,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “I sensed that when they came in from the warmup.”
Aaron Guillen’s first goal since 2013 got things started, with Leo Fernandes and Sebastian Guenzatti doing the second-half damage.
Guenzatti’s ninth of the season — on his ninth shot of the contest — ended a string of 11 straight Tampa Bay matches that had been decided by one goal. Loudoun had made it 2-1 on a fluky score, substitute Nicky Downs’ harmless-looking shot getting misplayed by defender Jordan Scarlett over wrong-footed Evan Louro in the 70th minute.
But Guenzatti restored Tampa Bay’s two-goal advantage four minutes later. Fernandes deflected the ball at midfield, and Yann Ekra beat a Loudoun player to it and flicked it forward to Guenzatti, who went 45 yards, getting right on the doorstep before beating helpless Jermaine Fordah.
Fernandes’ second goal in as many games made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute, a low left-footer that took a tricky hop over Fordah at the last instant.
“I thought we got what we deserved in the second half. We came out winning tackles, on the front foot, creating chances,” Collins said.
Tampa Bay blitzed the visitors from the opening kickoff, earning four corner kicks in the first three minutes. Guenzatti had five shots himself in the first five minutes, seven overall in a half that saw Tampa Bay post a 19-4 advantage.
But it took a defensive player for the Rowdies to reap their reward. Guillen sent the ball in from midfield and then sprinted goalward as Zach Steinberger controlled it and eventually delivered a pass into the penalty box. Guenzatti had the first chance at it but at the last moment saw Guillen streaking in. Guenzatti ticked the ball to his teammate for a seventh-minute score.
“It’s a play that I just cut in, the field opens up and I just keep running. Zach plays a great ball, Seba gets the last touch for the assist, and thankfully it went in,” Guillen said. His previous two career goals came in his rookie year for the Austin Aztex, a USL developmental franchise that lasted four seasons.
Forward Zach Steinberger, right wing Conner Antley and midfielder Laurence Wyke had an active first half, with Wyke ringing one off the left post after a back-heel pass from Guenzatti in the 30th minute. Fordah made eight first-half saves, only a couple of which were routine.
A week removed from making three halftime substitutions, Collins did not call on the bench until the 77th minute, after Loudoun had exhausted its maximum five exchanges.
In a quirky conclusion, Tampa Bay’s Dayonn Harris was injured, giving Loudoun an 11-on-10 advantage for the final five minutes as Collins had just put in his fifth sub, including Lucky Mkosana for his season debut.
The Rowdies hit the road for their next two matches, starting at Charlotte next weekend.