ST. PETERSBURG — Jordan Adebayo-Smith’s 85th-minute goal off a corner kick lifted the Rowdies to a 1-0 win over Hartford Athletic before an announced crowd of 3,682 Friday night at Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay was in control throughout the match, outshooting Hartford 22-2.
Adebayo-Smith scored on a rebound of his own shot after Lewis Hilton, who delivered the corner kick, saved a stray ball from rolling across the goal line.
“Credit to the players. It would have been easy to get frustrated, but I think they got what they deserved,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “Their concentration paid off.”
Tampa Bay (11-6-0, 33 points) sits atop the Atlantic Division, tied with Pittsburgh on points but technically in first place having played one fewer match. The teams meet Wednesday at Pittsburgh’s Highmark Stadium.
A stiff wind favored the Rowdies in the first half, but only two of Tampa Bay’s 12 shots (Hartford had 1) were on target. Collins inserted Lucky Mkosana as a substitute just shy of the hour mark, and he nearly scored on a break in, but Hartford goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell came up with a big save in the 59th minute.
“No question the wind was a factor,” Collins said. “It’s not ideal playing in these conditions, but we handled it well.”
Another substitute ended up sparking the Rowdies. In the 83rd minute, Juan Tejada appeared for the first time this season, and less than a minute later, the Rowdies earned the decisive corner kick opportunity.
Defender Forrest Lasso headed the ball near the goal line, and Hilton chased it down. He passed to Adebayo-Smith, whose first shot was blocked, but he calmly converted the second opportunity for his fourth goal as a Rowdie.
“I’m sure (Tejada) will be claiming an assist just for being on the field,” Collins said. “Juan’s first minutes of the season … he’s really stayed patient. We’ve got options, and I hope we continue to have options between now and the end of the season.”
Steevan Dos Santos (broken foot) made his first start since the fourth game of the season and clearly boosted the Rowdies’ attack. Off a 19th-minute corner kick, again on a Lasso pass, Dos Santos barely missed wide on a solid scoring chance.