by JAKE NUTTING
The Tampa Bay Rowdies remain unbeaten after three matches.
That could generally be considered a good start. However, Rowdies head coach Neill Collins was not feeling particularly satisified with that fact after his team allowed North Carolina FC to erase a two-goal lead in the second half on Saturday and leave St. Pete with a 2-2 result and a point.
“I have to take full responsibility for that second half performance,” Collins said. “I’ll have to look at it. I’ll have to look back and fix a lot of things and try to make sure that never happens again because that was tough to watch.”
Despite a weather delay that pushed kickoff from 6:00 to 7:45, the Rowdies had about as ideal a start to the night as they could’ve hoped for. Leo Fernandes continued his hot streak, setting up captain Sebastian Guenzatti for his first goal of the season seven minutes in the match and then tallying his third goal in as many matches with a curling free kick in the 22nd minute.
While we wait for the second half, here’s another look at our two goals from the first 45 minutes courtesy of @seba9113 and @Leo_Fernandes22.You can watch the match LIVE on ESPNews! pic.twitter.com/xwyJBvfWAe
“I thought in the first half he was absolutely excellent,” Collins said of Fernandes. “I could see him a little bit frustrated in the second half because we weren’t retaining the ball and getting him in the final third, the way he wants to play. That’s what I think Leo’s capable of, scoring goals and creating goals. He’s done that and we’ll need him to continue that. But we’ll need the team to help in regards to getting him in those positions.”
Unfortunately those two tallies were the only shots on goal for the Rowdies all night.
The Rowdies stopped pushing as hard as the first half wore and by the time the second half was in full swing the visitors had taken control of things. Whereas the Rowdies were the one pressing the issue in the first half hour, North Carolina reversed that for the rest of the night. At the end of the full 90 minutes they held a sizable possession advantage of 65 to 35.
North Carolina really gained steam after its first goal of the night in the 56th minute. As the Rowdies attempted to clear the ball out from a corner kick, forward Lucky Mkosana had an errant pass back into Tampa Bay’s box while under pressure from defenders. Attacker Dre Fortune pounced on the giveaway and easily deposited a shot past Evan Louro.
Ironically, midfielder Sebastian Dalgaard was already waiting to enter as a replacement for Mkosana at the next stoppage in play.
“I don’t think we played well in the second half regardless but giving them something as cheap as that obviously gave them more momentum. But I think they were already dictating the game,” Collins noted. “Lucky made the error for that goal but there were many basic errors through the half. When we watch back we’ll really need to get to the bottom of why we’re making such basic giveaways.”
The Rowdies held on to the lead up until the 83rd minute when forward Robert Kristo got his head on the end of a terrific cross into the box by DJ Taylor. Kristo had connected on a number of header throughout the night, but this was the one that finally stuck and sunk the Rowdies hopes of securing the win.
“We went 2-0 up and, this sometimes happens with teams that haven’t played too many games together, for whatever reason we became cagey,” Collins said. “North Carolina had nothing to lose and that’s why they took the shackles off and really started playing with freedom. If you do that and you’re up against a good team then they end up picking you off 3 or 4 nil because you throw men forward. And we could’ve. We still had opportunities. However few there were, we actually got in positions on the break that we should’ve punished and we didn’t. Last year it was a real strength of ours. At 2-0 we’d go on and make it 3 or 4. This team has got to learn how to manage a game but also not to change. We were having success. Have confidence. If anything, keep doing it and punish them more.”
The Rowdies return to action next Saturday when they travel to face Birmingham Legion FC. Now that they have their first disappointing result of the year to chew on over the next week, we’ll have to wait and see how this unite responds.
“I never really have to question is the players’ attitude. They train ever so well. I expect to see competition for spots. After that kind of performance everyone’s in with a chance of playing. I expect to see that. I expect to see a response. There will be a lot of disappointed people tonight with their own performance hopefully. I’m disappointed with my own. I take full responsibility for the team’s performance. So we’ll all need to do better next week.”