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Rowdies make one goal stand up in victory at Loudoun United

Tampa Bay can lock up the No. 1 overall seed in next week’s regular-season finale.
Steevan Dos Santos, second from right in a game earlier this season, had the Rowdies' lone goal Saturday night.
Steevan Dos Santos, second from right in a game earlier this season, had the Rowdies' lone goal Saturday night. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 24
Updated Oct. 24

The Rowdies were tested by the last-place team in the league, but they still remained the USL Championship’s first-place squad with a 1-0 victory at Loudoun United on Saturday night.

Steevan Dos Santos’ first-half goal, his eighth of the season, proved enough as the Rowdies outshot the hosts 15-7 in Leesburg, Va. Lewis Hilton’s free kick was cleared off the goal line, but the ball went right to Dos Santos for the easy putaway in the 40th minute.

Tampa Bay (22-7-2, 64 points) won its second in a row and, much like Wednesday’s victory over Miami, was willing to allow the opposition to possess the ball harmlessly through the midfield. Despite holding possession for 60 percent of the game, Loudoun managed one shot on target.

“Thought we managed to keep them at bay relatively well,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “Professional performance, clean sheet, and brings us to the end of a really tough period of matches.”

The Rowdies completed a stretch of six games in 23 days. They’ll get a full week before closing their regular season at Las Vegas, and all that’s needed is a draw there to lock up the No. 1 overall seed for the playoffs. Tampa Bay has already clinched home field throughout the Eastern Conference portion.

Western Conference leader Phoenix FC scored in the 84th minute to tie Sacramento late Saturday; had the Phoenix lost, the Rowdies would have clinched home-field advantage for the entire playoffs.

Tampa Bay faced Loudoun (4-23-3) without a top creator as Collins gave Leo Fernandes the night off along with defender Aaron Guillen.

Hilton, who returned after sitting out against Miami, will get an unscheduled night off in the regular-season finale as he accumulated his eighth yellow card of the season on Saturday.

Loudoun did not go quietly after falling behind, but the Rowdies’ Forrest Lasso and Laurence Wyke came up with valuable clearances, and Evan Louro only needed to make one save off a weak header in the 88th minute.

Max Lachowecki got a second straight start defensively and just missed high on a free header late in the first half. Collins indicated that if his team had gotten a second goal, he likely would have pulled his starting forwards sooner.

“Only Aaron Guillen’s great form has kind of kept Max out of more opportunities,” Collins said.

“Had we been in a more comfortable position, I might have made different substitutes. But it was important that we win the game.”