The Tampa Bay Rowdies will play on in 2020.
Tampa Bay extended their season another week by prevailing 2-1 over Louisville City FC in Saturday’s Eastern Confernce Final at Lynn Family Stadium. Zach Steinberger notched the first goal just four minutes into the match and captain Sebastian Guenzatti bagged the winner seconds before the halftime whistle.
“It was never gonna be easy coming here,” said Rowdies head coach Neill Collins after the match. “There was never gonna be an easy way to win against a team that our renown for winning, but I thought there were many aspects of our game that were fantastic tonight.”
Louisville entered the match as the odds on favorite to win. The club had not lost a match since July. The Rowdies showed no signs of intimidation at the start of the night, though. On their first meaningful position, the Rowdies worked the ball well down the left wing. And, as Lousivlle’s back line was preoccupied with where Guenzatti was, Steinberger slipped in at the near post to finish a cross from Leo Fernandes.
Steinberger’s opening strike put Louisville in a deficit for the first time in 13 matches. They responded the concession by taking hold of the match in terms of possession, though they only managed to guide one shot on target throughout the first half. That effort — a 20-yard shot by Corben Bone — was deftly pushed wide by Evan Louro. The Rowdies’ maintained their defensive composure despite the pressure from the hosts and also put in solid work nullifying a handful of set piece chances.
The defensive showing was impressive also because part of it was done without center back Jordan Scarlett, who exited in the 33rd minute after picking up a knock. Up until that point, Scarlett had played every minute of every match for the Rowides. Max Lachowecki came on to fill in on the back line, as he did in a couple instances in the regular season.
While not producing many chances themselves, the Rowdies proved themselves the more clinical side on the night when they added their vital second goal in the final minute of first-half stoppage time. Receiving a pass from Guenzatti, Sebastian Dalgaard charged in from the right side of the box, creating enough space for himself to fire a shot right at Ben Lundt at the near post. The keeper made the block but the ball bounced off him and rolled around in front of the goal until Guenzatti came swooping in to bury it.
It did not take Louisville long to get back in the match once the match resumed in the second half. In the 47th minute, a cross in from the right side by Brian Ownby missed the head of attacker Cameron Lancaster but took an unfortunate deflection off Lachowecki. While trying to clear, Lachowecki inadvertently headed the ball down and it bounced off his leg and into the Rowdies’ net.
Once the Rowdies got over the shock of gifting Louisville an easy goal, they once again began to shut them out from the offensive third. Much was made during the week about the showdown that was coming between Louisville’s high-powered attack and Tampa Bay’s resolute defense. The Rowdies won that battle on Saturday. Anchored by defenders Forrest Lasso and Aaron Guillen, as well as midfielders Jordan Doherty and Yann Ekra, the Rowdies limited Louisville to just three shots on goal all night. Even defender Alex Davey made his Rowdies debut as a substitute later on in the match and looked a natural fit as he came up with a few key tackles and clearances.
“I think the biggest compliment I can pay these players is they’re making people proud,” Collins said. “You’ve seen that prior to tonight’s game, so whatever happened tonight, they’ve made people really proud to be supporting them. We’ve got to continue doing that. That’s the thing. Hopefully tonight’s just the start.”
The Rowdies will now host either Phoenix Rising FC or El Paso Locomotive in next Sunday’s USL Championship Final. It will be the first league title the Rowdies will play for since claiming the NASL championship in 2012.