The Tampa Bay Rowdies closed out the regular season with their third loss of the year to the Charleston Battery. With a steady rain falling all night on Saturday at Al Lang, the two sides exchanged quick goals in the second half but it was the Battery who found the winner late in the match to take the 2-1 result.
As a result of the loss, the Rowdies’ chances at securing the top seed in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference came to an end. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Louisville City both leaped the Rowdies on the table with victories on Saturday. Hartford Athletic Could do the same if it wins its match against New York Red Bulls II on Sunday.
“There’s definitely lessons to be learned tonight,” Rowdies head coach Neill Collins said. “I think the biggest thing is if that was the end of our season tonight how would we feel? We wouldn’t feel great. We’d feel even worse about the performance that we put forward. We don’t wanna do that. Only one team’s gonna win the championship. You want to feel like you put on your best performance out there in the next four games to give yourself the best opportunity.”
There were no attacking chances to speak of in the first half. Neither keeper was tested, though the Rowdies arguably had the closest chance when a miscued clearance by a Chalreston defender sent the ball back toward his own goal. That missed, but not by much.
Both sides finished the half with just two shot attempts. It was tough for the game to develop any flow due to constant stoppages, especially in the second half. The rain and wind certainly didn’t help matters, but the 33 total fouls and 9 yellow cards handed out were also an impediment.
“I’ll be honest, I thought it was a really poor game,” Collins said. “People might say it’s easy to say that when you lose, but I genuinely thought it was a really poor game. The second half, I felt as if the ball was never in play. The referee had lots to do, and perhaps the conditions had a part in it. We’ve had some really good games this year. I’ve seen some really good football in the USL this year but tonight certainly wasn’t that. I don’t think the conditions affected it too much, but certainly when you see some of our passing at times it looked as if the conditions were affecting that. But it shouldn’t because we’ve played well in the rain.”
As they did in their last two meetings with the Rowdies, the Battery capitalized on a quick sequence to find the opening goal. In the 57th minute, defender Jordan Scarlett could not contol a long ball played into Tampa Bay’s area. Attacker Stavros Zarokostas then pounced on the ball, drove into the box and fired a shot to the far post that bested Evan Louro.
The Rowdies found an answer just five minutes later. Working another bit of set piece magic, a corner kick delivery from Leo Fernandes to the near post was flicked on to the far post by Sebastian Guenzatti. Center back Forrest Lasso was waiting in the area and powered a header across the line to level the match.
“At that point I thought we’d got back in the game quite quickly and really felt we’d go on stronger,” Collins said. “Again it felt as if the next 15 minutes the ball was never in play. We couldn’t build up any momentum. But we’re gonna have to be prepared for that and get used to that. That can happen.”
Unfortunately Lasso had a poor giveaway in the 84th minute that led to directly to Charleston grabbing the winner. A blind clearance attempt fell straight to Zarokostas near the halfway line. He took it down the field before passing it off to Temi Adesodun, who took it into the box. Zarokostas, though, remained floating just outside the box with no one marking him. So Adesodun played it back for Zarokostas to one-time a shot into the back of the net.
Next week the Rowdies will host Birmingham Legion FC in the first round of the postseason. Birmingham finished as runner up in Group G after a shocking 3-1 loss to lowly Memphis 901 FC. The Rowdies playe Birmingham to a 1-1 draw back in July in Alabama. Meanwhile, Charleston will take on Group G’s winner the Charlotte Independence. The winner of that match will take on whichever side prevails in the Rowdies’ match. The Rowies would host no matter what if they advance to the second round.
“We need to get our mind on Birmingham,” Collins said. “Why have we not performed, that’s the bigger question. Players have not played to their levels. Now is that something that Charleston are doing or is that something that we’re doing? That’s definitely a question to be answered. But our first focus will be getting the boys physically and mentally prepared to play against Brimingham next Saturday.”