You don’t get to say this too often — the Tampa Bay Rowdies’s 2-0 win over Philadelphia Union II on Sunday night came very close to carrying over into Monday. A lengthy lightning delay pushed kickoff by two and a half hours, meaning the final whistle didn’t blow until around a quarter to midnight.
It’s the second time this yeart the Rowdies have had to wait out the weather at Al Lang. The 2-2 draw with North Carolina in July was also delayed, though that one wasn’t nearly as long as this weekend’s.
“I find the rain delay’s always strange,” Collins said. “You come in with such a focus, such an intensity and then to have to wait. How do you keep that without burning yourself out? Very tough… We always talk about the need to adapt and I think the players did it professionally. Some of these guys are home in their beds by 11:00 pm most nights. To be out playing I’m sure must be a bit surreal.”
It didn’t long for the Rowdies to find a go-ahead goal once the action started. In the 7th minute, defender Aaron Guillen launched a long ball toward the right edge of the box for Malik Johnson, who deftly pushed the ball away from a defender and into open space on the endline. He then calmly picked out Guenzatti with a pass in front of net and the Rowdies’ captain flicked it across the line.
Philadelpha nearly had an answer to Guenzatti’s goal ten minutes later. Youngster Paxten Aaronson took advantage of some space outside Tampa Bay’s box to curl a shot toward goal that keeper Evan Louro was thankful to see clip of the top of the crossbar.
In the 25th minute, keeper Mitchell Budler rushed to the top of his box to prevent Guenzatti from latching on to a long ball over the top. In the process, though, he let the ball bounce off his shins and into the path of Yann Ekra, who fired off a shot toward the empty net. However, Philadelphia’s captain Brandan Craig got stuck his foot out to keep the lead at one.
Another blunder from Budler in the 39th minute allowed Ekra to finally notch his first Rowdies goal. Zach Steinberger sliced through the left side of Philadelphia’s box and played a pass back toward the top of the box that Ekra one-timed toward goal. Budler appeared to have the attempt covered, but it somehow slipped out of his grasp and rolled into the bottom right corner of the goal.
The vistiors came within inches of pulling one back on the last kick of the first half. Louro stretched out to deny a low strike by Luis Flores from outside the box, but it rolled past him and just outside the left post.
After that the Rowdies lead never looked threatened, but the amount of chances they created seemed to diminsh. Midfielder Jordan Doherty came the closest of anyone to adding a third. The Irishman was thwarted by Budler after Guenzatti fed him in the box for a one-on-one chance around the hour mark and he also had a header narrowly miss off a corner kick in the 89th minute.
Perhaps the Rowdies should have been able to bury a young Philadelphia side that was only playing its second game back after sitting out a month and is dead last in Group F with just 4 points. But you get the same amount of point for a 2-0 win as you do a 4-0 win.
They were notably without striker Juan Tejada, who rolled his ankle in Saturday’s training session. Collins said after the match that he doesn’t think the injury is serious.
“Never be disappointed when you win,” Collins said. “I think we always know to look deeper than just the scoreline. There’s certain disappointment we didn’t take more advantage of our good play and opportunities. Definitely we should’ve had more goals. But by the same token we take the fact that we got a clean sheet.”
The Rowdies’ quick two-game homsetand went about as well as could be expected after last weekend’s loss to the Charelston Battery. They recorded two wins and two clean sheets to stay atop the Group H standings. Miami FC helped the Rowdies out by forcing Charleston to a draw on Saturday, meaning the Rowdies will travel to face Charleston this Friday with a 6-point lead in the standings.
All the Rowdies need to clinch a postseason spot is one more point from their four remaning matches. The ultimate goal, though, remains much higher than just getting in to the the postseason.
“The response is always the most important thing to disappointment, ” Collins said. “Six points, two clean sheets; very positive. The players will be looking forward to the game Friday night. Certainly we’re in better shape heading there then we were heading back. We know it’s going to be a really tough game for us.”