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Rowdies break out of funk, take down Tulsa

Tampa Bay, winless in its past three games, earns a 3-1 victory and jumps to third in the Eastern Conference.
Rowdies goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena, shown here during a game last season, gets his first start of the season Saturday against Tulsa and picks up the win.
Rowdies goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena, shown here during a game last season, gets his first start of the season Saturday against Tulsa and picks up the win. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 17|Updated Apr. 17

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies’ offensive dry spell came to an end Saturday night, along with their three-game winless streak, thanks to a 3-1 triumph against Tulsa before an announced crowd of 5,067 at Al Lang Stadium.

Lewis Hilton scored in the third minute as Tampa Bay grabbed a 2-0 halftime lead and kept up the pressure in the second half, despite allowing a late goal.

“We’re not a team at home that wants to go 2-0 up and sit back,” said coach Neill Collins. “There are going to be games where you got to accept that you’re going to have to defend and stifle the opposition. But the way the boys were playing, you got to stay on the front foot, and we did that.”

Tampa Bay (3-1-3, 12 points) entered the game tied with Tulsa for fourth in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference. But the win bumped the Rowdies into third, one point behind Pittsburgh and five behind first-place Louisville City.

The Rowdies were determined to start fast and did just that.

Their press created a rushed pass from Tulsa goalkeeper Sean Lewis that Hilton easily claimed 40 yards out. Hilton fed Sebastian Guenzatti, who took a clever touch into the penalty box, dribbled around a defender and sent a cross that Lewis knocked away. But Hilton was waiting to measure a powerful volley off the outside of his right foot for the early lead.

Tulsa (3-4-0, 9 points) almost answered right back. Eric Bird flicked a pass to JJ Williams for a header, but Rowdies keeper Raiko Arozarena, getting his first start of the season, made a reflex save.

Both attacks stalled midway through the half until Jake La Cava’s strong run drew a foul just inside the top of the box for a Rowdies penalty kick. However, Guenzatti’s shot hit off the left post.

La Cava created the second goal in the 37th minute. Laurence Wyke, starting at central defender to give Jordan Scarlett a night off, sprung La Cava down the right wing. Kyle Greig made a diagonal run, La Cava slotted the pass and Greig slid for a left-footed strike and his first goal with Tampa Bay.

“For me, I’m most dangerous inside the 6-yard box, and I like to make hard runs to the front post,” said Greig, who made his first start after having played a total of 39 minutes. “This week we really focused on putting the ball in the back of the net and just getting familiar with where guys are running and where the ball can be most dangerous. Fortunately, it paid off tonight.”

Greig almost scored again in the second half. Yann Ekra sprung him in alone in the 54th minute, but Lewis blocked it with his body. Guenzatti nearly secured a spot on the all-time highlight reel with a flying scissors kick, but the ball sailed over the net.

With Tulsa rarely able to string together consecutive passes, it had to settle for long-range attempts. Bird had a strike from 25 yards that Arozarena was able to grab in the 51st minute, and Brian Brown later let fly from 30 yards that the Rowdies keeper got a fingertip on, sending the ball off the left post.

The Rowdies lived in the Tulsa defensive third for much of the second half, practically toying with the ball for long stretches. They outshot Tulsa 15-5 in the half, though just three of those were on target. The Rowdies finished with a 21-8 shot advantage.

Tulsa struck in the 85th minute as Williams collected a long ball and played give-and-go with Brown before Williams scored his fourth goal of the season. Two minutes later, the Rowdies restored their two-goal cushion as Fernandes’ low pass made its way to Dayonn Harris for his first goal of the season.

“You give yourself a nervy finish when you shouldn’t have,” Collins said. “But we want to get the third, the fourth (goals). I hope the fans enjoyed it, because that’s what we’re asking the players to do, entertain our fans. And I thought they did that.”

Up next for Tampa Bay is a highly anticipated U.S. Open Cup matchup Wednesday against Orlando City of MLS. Originally set to be played in Kissimmee, the match was moved to the Orlando’s Exploria Stadium.


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