For the third time this year, the Tampa Bay Rowdies (10W-2L-3D, 33 pts) had to contend with an extended weather delay. This time it was the club’s away match against Miami FC (2W-8L-4D, 10 pts) that was scheduled to kick off at 7:30 didn’t end up starting until 10:01.
The delay didn’t dampen the Rowdies in their final road match of the regular season, though. Captain Sebastian Guenzatti tallied his 8th goal of the year to lift the Rowdies to 1-0 victory over last-place Miami.
Tampa Bay came out on the front foot early in the macth, with forward Kyle Murphy putting keeper Mark Pais under serious pressure in the 12th minute with a powerful long-range strike that Pais managed to punch away before it reached the bottom left corner.
Guenzatti then had the next best opportunity in the 20th minute. Right winback Mustapha Dumbuya picked Guenzatti out with a great cross, but the attacker’s effort was stopped by Pais and Leo Fernandes could not hit the mark with his rebound effort. Fernandes also missed on a left-footed volley inside the box less than minute later.
The Rowdies nearly gifted Miami with a go-ahead goal in the 26th minute as a Miami counter attack ended with the ball at the feet of a wide open Tomas Granitto in the center of Tampa Bay’s box. Thankfully Granitto’s strike was well off target.
Just as Miami appeared to be gaining a foothold in the match, the Rowdies stuck a dagger in by converting on their second corner kick of the night. From the left corner, Fernandes whipped in a cross that found defender Jordan Scarlett on the back post. Scarlett headed the ball toward the center of the box, where Guenzatti was waiting to deftly head the ball past Pais.
Vincent Bezecourt attempted to get Miami level just two minutes later on a corner kick as well. Playing a short corner to Harrison Heath, Bezecourt took the ball back and sliced into the box before getting off a shot that was likely to slip under the crossbar if not for a tip save by Rowdies keeper Evan Louro.
That attempt in the 40th minute was Miami’s last true threat of the night. The Rowdies completely shut them down with an organized defensive effort in the closing half. Of their 15 shots on the night, Miami only managed to get just 3 on frame. Many of those attempts were taken from disatnce as the Rowdies shut down the lanes into the box. The Rowdies defense finished the night 7 blocks.
Besides the solid shift to close out the match, the Rowdies had another positive with the return of Lucky Mkosana. The striker came off the bench in the 68th minute, making his first appearance in five matches after suffering a hamstring injury. Mksoana looked lively and would have notched a goal in the 84th minute if he’d been able to guide a rebound attempt on net after Pais denied Guenzatti a second header goal.
Picking up three points off Miami is a boost to the Rowdies in the race for the top spot in Group H. It keeps pressure on the Charleston Battery (8W-2L-3D, 27 pts), who will face Miami on Wednesday before travelling to Al Lang next Saturday for the regular season finale. Both the Rowdies and Battery have alrady clinched postseason spots but are battling it out for the top spot in the group. The Battery’s scheduled match with Lououn United this weekend was cancelled due to positive COVID-19 test results within Loudoun’s organization. Shoud the Rowdies and Battery somehow end the season even on points, points per game average would be the first tiebreaker to decide who wins the group.
Another result outside of Group H also went in favor of the Rowdies as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (10W-4L-1D, 31 pts) fell to Hartford Athletic (9W-3L-2D, 29 pts) 1-0. Pittsburgh’s loss means the Rowdies could finish the season with the most points in the Eastern Conference, guaranteeing them home advantage against the rest of the postseason field in the conference. That is of course contingent on how they finish against Charleston, who have knocoed the Rowdies off in their last two matchups.