The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ unbeaten run was halted at nine matches on Saturday, as the Charleston Battery dealt them their first defeat of the year in a 1-0 result. With the victory, Charleston improves to 20 points in the Group H standings, one point below the Rowdies. Both sides have six matches remaining on the year, including two more head-to-head battles.
“I felt over the last two or three weeks we’d taken some steps forward. I thought tonight we maybe took one back.,” Rowdies head coach Neill Collins said post match.
Stavros Zarokostas, who came close to scoring at Al Lang when the Rowdies beat the Battery 2-0 back in July, tallied the deciding goal in the 22nd minute. From Chareslton’s own end of the field, midfielder Angelo Kelly played a pin-point pass over the midfield that skipped off the ground and rose just over the outstretched foot of Rowdies defender Jordan Scarlett. Zarokostas then took control of the ball and shook off Forrest Lasso in the box before depositing a shot into the upper right corner of the net.
Zarakostas’ finish was one of several counter attack opportunities in the first half for the Battery, who looked content to cede possession to the Rowdies and maintain their defensive shape. The Rowdies failed to do anything meaningful with that possession and failed to register a shot on goal throughout the first half. They were often too slow moving the ball around, allowing Charleston to settle in defensively and isolate the Rowdies’ three strikers from the midfield.
“Without sounding cliche, these are the nights where you learn a lot,” Collins said. “I’ll learn a lot from tonight and how we improve that. There’s no question there’s areas that we need to improve. I do feel that when players look back, a lot of individual performances were off the standards that they’ve set. If those guys perform more to their level, I expect our chances of winning that game would’ve been far higher.”
It looked for brief moment as if things might turn around after the break. Two minutes into the second, half the Rowdies took advantage of their first corner kick of the night to earn their first chance on goal as well. Leo Fernandes’ delivery found the head of Tejada, who skidded his attempt off the grass. Sebastian Guenzatti made an effort to shield Joe Kuzminsky from seeing the header, but Charleston’s keeper did well to pluck Tejada’s effort out of the air before it could cross the line.
Unfortunately that ended up being the only shot on goal for the Rowdies all night. Collins utilized all five of his available substitutions in hopes of finding a spark. Yann Ekra replaced Dominic Oduro in midfield at halftime and had a few positive moments, but nothing that amounted to clear cut chances for the Rowdies. Adam Najem, Sebastian Dalgaard, Lewis Hilton and Zach Steinberger couldn’t change the game off the bench either. The Rowdies were notably without striker Lucky Mkosana due to injury. Mkosana has been one of the most potent options for the Rowdies in the last year.
Beside Saturday’s result being the first loss of the year, it’s also the first time the Rowdies have been shut out all year.
“You’ve always gotta give credit to the opposition. They’ll feel that their gameplan worked. They created more chances than just their goal,” Collins said. “But I feel we had far, far too many players who had off nights. Sometimes you can carry one or two. Tonight we probably had 7 or 8, and we didn’t have the same impact off the bench as we’ve had either. It was a disappointing night, to not perform. Getting beat we can accept. That happens at times. But the performance is the biggest concern. We just didn’t perform, so we’ll need to look at why that was.”
The Rowdies return to action at home Wednesday for their third meeting with Miami FC. Last place Miami is still clinging to hopes of securing a postseason spot and will feel a bit of confidence having taken a point off the Rowdies at Al Lang two weeks ago.
“We’re gonna need to keep the form we’ve had over the first ten up,” Collins noted. “We’ know that Charleston are on a great run of form as well and Miami have picked up so we’re gonna need to sustain. What we’ve done so far has been good, but we’re gonna need to sustain it. The best way is always to win the next one.”