There’s no getting around it: the end of the this season stung. To see the Rowdies be denied their chance at their first league title since 2012 because of circumstances away was not the way anyone wanted this to end.

Given time to reflect, though, the 2020 season (a.k.a. the season of ZoZo) has given us some of the absolute best moments of any Rowdies season in the modern era. So, in no particular order, here are some of the most memorable moments and stories of this year.

First Win in New York

We start where it all began in 2020. It may feel like it happened ages ago, the win in the season opener at New York Red Bulls II set the stage for what was one of the best seasons of the modern era. The Rowdies had gone winless in nine previous away trips against New York-based opposition. As much as all the roster moves made a difference in the Rowdies finally turning things around on this trip, it was the club’s longest serving player who came through with the decisive goal in the 1-0 victory. With his own cheering section of family and friends at the stadium, Leo Fernandes buried a finish early in the second half that carried the Rowdies to three points in their first outing. Thankfully Fernandes and club captain Sebastian Guenzatti will be both be back in 2021 to try to capture the USL Cup that eluded them this year and cross 100 appearances for the Rowdies.

Juan Tejada’s Panama Call-Up

What a joy and privilege it’s been as to see Juan Tejada come into his own as a professional the last two seasons with the Rowdies. He started as a trilalist, but it didn’t take long at all for the Rowdies to recognize what they had discovered in Tejada. If they didn’t snatch him up back in 2019, someone else clearly would have taken on the Eckerd College graduate. Now as we close 2020, Tejada has a match with Panama’s senior national team under his belt, gained through recognition of his play in Tampa Bay. That’s a great affirmation of what the Rowdies have done the last few year by investing and seeking out younger, unproven talent. More importantly, it just feels nice to see good things happen for a good person, which Tejada definitely is.


The Season Restart

After four months of uncertainty, the Rowdies returned to the field on July 11. You can argue about whether the league should have come back at all in 2020 and if it even did so successfully. I know I’ve struggled with those questions. But the fact is the league did resume and on that day when the Rowdies beat Atlanta United 2 in their first game back, as well as every other matchday for the rest of 2020, things just felt a little closer to normal. I was certainly grafteful for to have that feeling this year.

Malik’s Shake N’ Bake

Technically Malik Johnson made his first appearance in 2020 as a stoppage time substitute in the 2-2 draw with North Carolina on July 17, but it was his appearance off the bench two weeks later against the Charleston Battery and then the following week in Miami that really felt like the first time he showed up. The Canadian winger sliced and diced through multiple defenders on those nights and tidily converted two chances, providing the first truly thrilling moments of action of the year. From those goals on, every time Johnson got the ball at his feet out on the right wing everyone was eagerly anticpating what he was going to do. Well, us supporters were. The other team’s left backs were just sweating bullets.

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Goal by Malik Johnson

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One-Eyed Lasso

There are many defensive moments to highlight when it comes to Forrest Lasso. The many won the league’s Defender of the Year award, so that should be obvious. However, the moment that we’re focusing on is his goal (one of three in 2020) in Atlanta on August 12. Early in the match, Lasso took an errant fingertip to the eye that downed him for quite a bit. Fortunately he was able to continue and in the 34th minute showed he only needed one eye to head home a cross from Lewis Hilton. It’s not just the one-two punch of Lasso nearly having his eye poked out and then giving the Rowdies a go-ahead goal. It’s also the celebration that a mic of the sideline picked up. Listen closely.

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Seba Saves the Day

On another trip to Atlanta, El Capitan Sebastian Guenzatti showed how one single moment can make all the difference when he found a literal last second winner in the pouring rain. An uncharacteristic own goal looked as if it might cost the Rowdies two points, but Guenzatti and the Rowdies demonstrated their ability to score when it mattered and overcome adversity. The Rowdies were already likely to clinch a postseason berth at that point, but Guenzatti’s goal allowed them to do so emphatically and kept the pressure on the Battery to chase them in the final weeks.

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Louro’s Resourceful Thinking

We have plenty of reasons to love keeper Evan Louro. 1) He played every minute of 2020. 2) He made a handful of outstanding saves that preserved clean sheets and secured valuable points. 3) He’s an outspoken leader on the Rowdies back line, one of the absolute best defensive units we’ve seen the last decade. 4) He tweets things like this. To close 2020, though, we’re highlighting his quick thinking when he’s caught way off his line in the 60th minute of the 2-0 win over Philadelphia Union II on September 6.

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It’s the fact that Louro acts suprised when the referee gives him a card here that really makes this moment for me.

Lucky’s Postseason Winners

I know for a fact that when I’m old and gray I’ll be recalling the goals Lucky Mkosana scored in the first two rounds of the 2020 postseason to whoever will listen. This is the stuff legends are made of. After a roaring two-goal first half against Birmingham Legion FC, the Rowdies allowed the visitors to pull even within the span of five minutes in the second half. The tide turned that night when Mkosana entered a few minutes later and then grabbed the winner in the 78th. He then replicated that performance the next week with another winner from off the bench, this time preventing the Rowdies from falling to the Battery for the fourth straight time, but more importantly securing their spot in the Eastern Conference title match. What is so remarkable about what Mkosana did is that everyone knows exactly what to expect from him as a substitute and yet he still found the right spot at the right time and had the perfect finishes.

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Irn-Bru Sweeps the Fandom

Where would be without the sweet, Scottish nectar Irn-Bru? The soft drink from Rowdies head coach Neill Collins’ home country was a late addition to the season of ZoZo, but it definitely fueled the incredible postseason run in October. All credit goes to Carlos Rueda for starting the trend after the Rowdies clinched the top spot in Group H.

No Title

Celebratory drink in honor of @neillycollins3 leading us to a top Group H finish‼️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿Also I feel like @Dumsch_Goldie and @GoggsyNineNine might appreciate this

What was truly great about this completely organic Irn-bru phenomenon is that it gave us something to rally around and feel connected through when we really couldn’t be as connected in all the usual ways. Everyone was pillaging their local Publix international aisles of whatever Irn-bru they could find to join in on the fun. It’s also left fans of other teams across the league completely bewildered. That was also a plus.

Eastern Conference Championship

No list of memorable 2020 moments is complete without the win over Louisville City in the Eastern Conference Championship. It’s not the ultimate prize everyone in the league is vying for, but man did it feel good to take the Eastern Conference trophy off the hands of Louisville in their home stadium when seemingly everyone was picking against the Rowdies. Neill Collins said after the match that several players put in the best performances anyone in a Rowdies shirt has had in the modern era and its hard to disagree. Zach Steinberger stunned the hosts with a strike in the opening minutes and Guenzatti doubled the lead moments before halftime. Louisville’s only tally of the night was through an unfortunate own goal by Max Lachowecki, who had come off the bench after starting defender Jordan Scarlett went down with an injury. Lachoweckiredeemed himself with a sturdy shift from that moment on, though, and the rest of his teammates did the same while frustrating Louisville’s previously lethal attack. The goal wasn’t for this to be the final game of the 2020, but if it has to be then what a way to go out. This one ranks up there with the 2012 Soccer Bowl win and the U.S. Open Cup win over the Seattle Sounders. The difference is this match clearly had the best overall performance. This is a level of performance the Rowdies should hope to not only maintain but build on.

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