ST. PETERSBURG — The first 30 minutes saw the visitors dominate. The next 30 saw the Rowdies take control, but fail to produce that first shot on goal.
The final 30 were all about Steevan Dos Santos and another victory for Tampa Bay, now 4-0-1 over its past five games after taking down Charlotte before an announced 4,461 fans at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday. Dos Santos, who missed nearly three months with a broken foot, scored in the 73rd and 76th minutes for his first goals since May.
“I thought the second half was one of our best performances of the season and I thought the first half was one of our poorest,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said of the 2-0 victory. “It was a great game tonight, and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Tampa Bay (13-6-1, 40 points) kept pace with Pittsburgh (12-6-4), which briefly held the Atlantic Division lead thanks to a late goal and 3-2 victory at Hartford earlier Saturday.
Dos Santos, who came off the bench with 25 minutes remaining, blasted in a header to break the deadlock. Laurence Wyke sent a ball over to the left wing for Sebastian Dalgaard, whose cross took a deflection off a Charlotte defender before Dos Santos firmly delivered it to the left post by helpless goalkeeper Austin Pack.
“We were at that stage in the game where we felt he could really impact it. Of course we know that he can impact it from the start, but we have to look after him (physically),” Collins said of Dos Santos. “We were getting on top, we felt like he could cause problems, and he certainly did that.”
Charlotte, which had not sniffed a second-half scoring chance, was immediately susceptible to giving up another goal.
Conner Antley’s hustle to prevent a ball from rolling out for a goal kick extended an attack, halftime sub Yann Ekra made a steal and passed to Wyke, who spotted Dos Santos for the one-touch goal with his left foot.
Dos Santos’ four-minute output is equal to the total of goals Tampa Bay has allowed during its five-match run of positive results.
“Everyone raised their game in the second half. Laurence showed some great energy, added moments of quality that were missing in the first half. And Conner, that’s just what we’re about, that relentless energy, that relentless press to get the ball back and it paid off,” Collins said.
Ekra’s insertion was one of several moves Collins felt necessary to switch the contest around. The Independence, who took the play to Tampa Bay at the game’s onset, mustered a couple of decent shots in the closing minutes but the Dos Santos double did them in. He has five goals, second to captain Sebastian Guenzatti’s nine, this season.
Lucky Mkosana made his first start of the season, in Dos Santos’ spot, and was credited with Tampa Bay’s first shot on goal in the 64th minute, also on a Wyke pass.
Charlotte, despite a 15-12 overall shot advantage, managed to get just one on frame and it came in the sixth minute. Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro made a difficult save with his feet on Sylvain Marveaux’s strong effort. Charlotte outshot the Rowdies 8-4 in the first half.
The Rowdies return home Friday to face the Oakland Roots out of the Western Conference. Tampa Bay split the four-game series with Charlotte, the home side winning each time. The Rowdies are now 8-2 at Al Lang.