ST. PETERSBURG — As comprehensive as it was impressive, the Tampa Bay Rowdies posted a dominant performance Friday at Al Lang Stadium, defeating the Oakland Roots 3-0 to ascend to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Oakland (5-9-5) brought a six-match unbeaten streak that included three straight 3-1 victories, but an announced crowd of 3,514 saw the Rowdies take control and keep it. Tampa Bay (14-6-1, 43 points) got first-half goals from Sebastian Guenzatti and Sebastian Dalgaard, and the first of the season from Lucky Mkosana in the closing minutes.
Tampa Bay now possesses its own six-game stretch without a defeat. And with Louisville (40 points) getting upset at home by Tulsa on Friday, the Rowdies are on top of the conference table. Pittsburgh also sits with 43 points but the Rowdies have played two fewer matches.
“That’s been the team with the best form in the league, behind ourselves,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins of Oakland. “The second half we were maybe looking for a little bit more, being greedy, could have controlled the game a little better. But we didn’t give up really any opportunities except for the last two minutes. Lots of positives.”
The Rowdies outshot Oakland 20-4. Although Dalgaard’s strike, a 30-yard missile into the upper left corner, will deservedly get attention, it was important for Guenzatti to grab his 10th of the season. The captain had not scored since July 24 at Loudoun.
It came at the half-hour mark and started with Lewis Hilton’s corner kick almost resulting in an own goal. Though Oakland keeper Taylor Bailey did well to keep the ball out, Jordan Scarlett was able to send it across the goal mouth where Steevan Dos Santos was ready to pounce. But Guenzatti craftily guided the ball in with the back of his left leg.
Guenzatti had a break-in get stopped in the 13th minute, and Hilton had a dangerous free kick saved by Bailey in the 24th.
Dalgaard doubled the lead in the 41st minute with his incredible shot.
“I’ve been doing it in practice, but I haven’t really been able to connect in the games. I’ve gotten close a couple times,” Dalgaard said. “Hitting it like I did, you just feel right when it lets go of your boot, ‘Yes this one has a chance.’ It feels great.”
Dos Santos scored on a tremendous scissors kick but it was waved off by a late offside midway through the second half. Collins did not make any substitutions until 67 minutes had elapsed; by that time a searching Oakland side had swapped out four starters.
Mkosana added to the lead on a solo effort 82nd minute, dribbling into the box and going with his weaker (left) foot to score. Evan Louro preserved the shutout with a nice diving save of a header in the 88th.
The Rowdies also were able to see midfielder Leo Fernandes return from a month-long injury absence and nearly nab an assist as his cross was headed by Guenzatti but saved well.
Tampa Bay can’t enjoy this one for too long, as it must head on the road to play Charleston on Tuesday. The Rowdies are back at home next Saturday before going on a season-long road trip of three matches.
“Big win tonight. Sets us up well for the week ahead,” Collins said.