- Nationally broadcast ✔
- Breezy night w/zero humidity ✔
- Limited, but loud crowd in attendance ✔
- Two fanbases swapping top, top bantz online ✔
- Chippy, physical game with 8 yellow cards ✔
All things considered, you’d be perfectly sane to think that last night was actually last October, instead of the UNFINISHED BUSINESS hype-fest third game of the 2021 regular season it really was. Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Neill Collins tried his best to play down the buildup in his midweek press conference, referring to it as the “third game on the schedule” and saying “after week five or six, everyone will have moved on,” but his emotional post-game interaction with Phoenix Rising‘s Santi Moar and celebration with Ralph’s Mob and the Skyway Casuals revealed how much this match and this win meant to him (and us!)
Tampa Bay struck early, taking the lead through an Aodhan Quinn own goal in the 4th minute, as the Phoenician tried to clear a Steevan Dos Santos pass, but redirected it into the Mob End goal. The Cape Verdean had several more chances early, just missing in the 9th, 10th and 11th minute. Following that flurry, the momentum moved to the visitors but the Rowdies weathered the storm and closed out the first half by applying more pressure on the guests.
15 minutes into the second half, Dos Santos finally got the goal he was looking for after Rising GK Ben Lundt got a hand on a Forrest Lasso header and the ball came to rest at the feet of the Tampa Bay forward for an easy finish to put the Rowdies up 2-0. The few Rising faithful among the 2,355 at Al Lang finally got something to cheer about 7 minutes later as Moar became the first player to score against Tampa Bay this season, but the Rowdies supporters got back into full voice seconds later following a tussle between Rowdies GK Evan Louro and Rising forward Rufat Dadashov resulted in both players being shown yellow cards, 2 of the 8 cards assessed by the referee on the night.
The close scoreline raised the tension level somewhat for the final 22 minutes of regulation plus 4 minutes of stoppage time, but the Rowdies stood tall and claimed a 2-1 win over the defending Western Conference Champions. Buoyed by a win in a game that more than lived up to the hype that started building the moment the USL schedule was announced, the celebrations broke out around the stadium, from the players and coaches on the pitch, the fans in the stands, all to the sound of “We are the Champions” over the sound system. The same atmosphere continued outside of the stadium, as the sounds of fans chanting, cheering and singing were mixed with car horns honking as people dispersed to local bars and restaurants to continue the festivities.
Post-match, Collins described the game, or at least the last 20 minutes, as feeling like a cup final, both on the pitch and in the stands, but the reality is that it’s May, not October and that means there’s another match 7 days away when Miami FC comes to town. Collins and his players will be sure to savor this one for about a day but it’s back to work. The vaunted Rowdies defense will go into training this week full of confidence after limiting Rising’s attacking trident of Dadashov, Moar, and Solomon Asante to a combined total of 1 goal and 2 shots on target.
Tampa Bay Rowdies 2 Quinn OG 4′, Dos Santos 61′
Phoenix Rising 1 Moar 68′
Tampa Bay Rowdies 3: Hilton 40′, Louro 68′, Adebayo-Smith 90+2′
Phoenix Rising 5: Quinn 42′, Dadashov 68′, Tobi Adewole 80′, Saydeen 86′, Billingsley 90′
We all love goals, and Dos Santos played a key role in both Rowdies scores, but with 14 clearances, 1 blocked shot and 7 interceptions, I’m giving it to the whole backline for their display last night.