Leo Fernandes scores in 3rd straight game as Rowdies tie Charleston

Tampa Bay records nine corners and 14 shots, with five of those on goal, but Charleston converts its lone shot on goal to force the draw.
Leo Fernandes scores a goal for the third consecutive game in the Rowdies' draw against Charleston on Saturday night, giving him five in 15 matches this season.
Leo Fernandes scores a goal for the third consecutive game in the Rowdies' draw against Charleston on Saturday night, giving him five in 15 matches this season. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Jun. 19, 2022|Updated Jun. 19, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — It took Charleston 62 minutes to get its first shot on goal, 62 minutes to flip possession long enough to generate a scoring chance that pierced the Rowdies defense, but that was all the Battery needed in a one-goal game.

From the right side of the 18-yard box, Romario Piggott collected a pass that had been chipped over defender Aaron Guillen’s head. And when Rowdies keeper CJ Cochran raced across to contest, Piggott sent a pass to the other side. There, amid what assistant coach Jon Stead called an “untidy” defensive set by the Rowdies, Augustine Williams waited to direct the ball into the net and even the score at 1 in the USL Championship match.

Charleston didn’t generate another shot on goal the rest of the match, but the Rowdies couldn’t capitalize on nine corner kicks, 14 shots on goal and a stark possession advantage in the first half during their 1-1 draw Saturday night — just the second time in six matches they didn’t emerge with three points. They couldn’t build on the early lead that Leo Fernandes’ goal provided, while in the second half, Charleston (2-2-9) did a better job clogging the box and mitigating the opportunities the Rowdies (7-5-3) had to connect on crossing passes, Fernandes said.

“We were missing some easy passes (in the second half) that usually we don’t,” Fernandes said, “and that was able to get them possession of the ball and they made us pay for it.”

The matchup with Charleston was one the Rowdies wanted to “attack from minute one,” said Stead, filling in for head coach Neill Collins, who missed the match while taking a UEFA professional licensing course; he’s expected back on Thursday.

And to boost that approach, they used Lucky Mkosana as a starter for the first time this season. They wanted to get the first goal — which they ultimately did — and then get the second, too, while taking advantage of pockets in front of Charleston’s centerbacks and center midfielders that would allow attacking players to face defenders, Fernandes said.

The Rowdies nearly scored in the 10th minute when Lewis Hilton stepped in front of a pass and tore toward the Charleston net, but Jake LaCava hit the crossbar on his shot. About 15 minutes later, LaCava maneuvered around his defender on the left side and cut toward the end line. When he tried to send a pass to Mkosana in the penalty area, a Charleston defender squatted and deflected the ball back.

Still, the Rowdies snapped the scoreless stretch in the 34th minute. At the center circle’s edge, Fernandes nearly lost possession as he tried to split two Charleston defenders. Then, after he reached back with his foot to recover before a slide tackle poked it away, a third Charleston defender nearly stole it again. This was far from their best scoring chance in the half, with a cluster of players prevented a clean shooting window from opening, yet Fernandes stared off one defender and directed a shot from outside the 18-yard box into the lower right corner of the goal.

“I was going to slip it to (Sebastian Dalgaard), but the two centerbacks never stepped,” Fernandes said, “so I was able to get the shot off.”

Six minutes later, Fernandes was fouled before a pass reached him to force a free kick and almost buried another goal into the top right corner — Hugo Fauroux rose and pushed the ball away. He also executed a give-and-go that led to an open net for Mkosana on the left side of the penalty area, but a referee perched a few yards back with his arm, and a flag, raised to signal offsides as Mkosana’s shot sank into the net.

Those conversion issues continued as the first half stretched into the second, as Charleston knotted the score at 1 and as the match reached its six minutes of extra time. And once the Rowdies navigated their own late defensive lapses — including a turnover on a clear that led to Andrew Booth with an open shooting lane, a shot that deflected away and a head buried in his hands after the play — additional signs of frustration emerged from them in their attacking end. They couldn’t convert on three corner kicks in extra time, and the reality of their first tie in 17 days settled into focus.

“I feel we should be getting three points,” Stead said.