ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies earned a season-high 15 corner kicks Saturday and missed them all. Detroit City FC blocked numerous other chances close to the net, too.
Instead, it took a deep shot and a chipped rebound to lift Tampa Bay — the USL Championship’s No. 2 offense entering the night — to a 1-0 win.
From outside the 18-yard box, midfielder Lewis Hilton directed a low ball toward the left corner in the 64th minute, forcing Detroit keeper Nathan Steinwascher to dive across the front of the net. He made the initial save, but Steevan Dos Santos redirected the ball over him to score for the fifth time in the last four matches.
“We’ve prided ourselves in the past on scoring off set pieces,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said, “but there’s a number of ways to score.”
The victory extended the Rowdies’ unbeaten streak to 13 games, matching the longest such run in the club’s modern era. Eleven of those games have been wins. Tampa Bay hasn’t lost since May 15, creeping closer to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, with the chance to overtake Louisville City FC when the teams meet next weekend.
“I thought we made a very comfortable victory without having the scoreline to match,” Collins said.
At the center of Tampa Bay’s latest push has been Dos Santos, who has provided a scoring burst since returning from an ankle injury. The forward didn’t score in his first game back, but he’s tallied at least one goal in every game since. Collins said Dos Santos has been “on a great run,” and he nearly opened the scoring just nine minutes into the game.
A pass led him toward the right side of the net, and he managed to chip the ball past Steinwascher. But Detroit defender Matt Lewis raced back and deflected the ball before it crossed the goal line. Tampa Bay generated chances — eight corner kicks and four shots on goal — in the first half, but a Detroit defense that entered the game having limited opponents to the second-fewest goals countered with stops.
Two minutes later, the Rowdies attempted their first corner kick. Sebastian Dalgaard timed his shot with the downward trajectory of Hilton’s set piece. Steinwascher followed with a save. Similar scenarios repeated over the opening 45 minutes.
Detroit’s best chance in the half came in the 41st minute, when Rhys Williams directed a shot toward the right corner. But Rowdies keeper CJ Cochran poked it aside, keeping the game scoreless heading to halftime and continuing to bide time until the Rowdies scored.
They couldn’t convert on their first two corners of the second half. Detroit’s defense continued to extinguish Tampa Bay chances, and blocked shots contributed, as well. During a free kick in the 60th minute, Hilton’s initial shot was blocked, and Leo Fernandes raced forward for another chance. It also was blocked, the ball ricocheting deep into the Rowdies’ end.
Eventually, the scoring chance that involved Dos Santos, Hilton and a quick initial touch from defender Aaron Guillen materialized. Dos Santos said he knew Hilton planned to shoot the ball as soon as the midfielder touched it forward. He just didn’t want to jump offsides. So he stayed back and timed his move toward the keeper with the path of Hilton’s shot.
“The ball was there for anyone to grab,” Dos Santos said. “Fortunately for me, I was there in the right moment.”
When the ball settled into the net, Dos Santos spread his arms wide in celebration. Guillen lay flat on the ground, arms and legs stretched out. Collins said he knows teams — even the best teams — can’t go out and score five goals every week. Sometimes, they have to “bat the door down” and keep batting, until it eventually cracks open.
That’s what happened Saturday. “(The Rowdies) deserved a goal much earlier than we got it,” Collins said, and the missed corners contributed to that. But it was enough to keep their winning streak intact entering their second meeting with Louisville.
“(Louisville has) been on a fantastic run since we last played them,” Collins said. “We’ve been on a great run. What a game (it’ll be).”