Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies broke a seven-game winless streak with a 2-0 victory against FC Cincinnati in the USL Game of the Week on ESPNU in front of 6,269 fans at Al Lang Stadium on Thursday night. Both teams had chances early as FCC’s Kadeem Dacres’ shot from 20 yards was comfortably saved by Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens and Martin Paterson fired over for the Rowdies from the same distance. The Rowdies began to gain the upper hand after the 25th minute, and on the half-hour mark Alex Morrell made a surging run in from the right and rang his shot from the top of the penalty area off the left upright. Patterson was the next to threaten as he was sent into the right side of the penalty area by Joe Cole, only for his low shot to be saved, but a minute later the former Northern Ireland international had the opener, flicking home a low cross by Morrell from the right into the roof of the net in the 39th minute. Morrell was at it again five minutes later as a surging run from midfield put him into the left side of the penalty area. Hildebrandt saved the initial shot, but Cole followed up to knock home the rebound. Almost immediately a lightning strike forced the players from the field, and there was a delay of almost two hours. Cincinnati almost pulled a goal back early in the second half as substitute Djiby Fall’s header was parried by Pickens from a free kick, while Morrell had a second chance to find the net on a breakaway, only for FCC defender Josu to recover and time his challenge well. Both Cole and Marcel Schäfer did have chances saved by Hildebrandt for the hosts, and FCC’s Jimmy McLaughlin flashed a shot wide of the left post with seven minutes to go. Pickens made one final save to deny a header from fall with a minute to go, but the hosts then closed out the victory to return to third place in the Eastern Conference.
39’ – TBR – Martin Paterson (Alex Morrell)
44’ – TBR – Joe Cole
Three Things That Matter:
1. Entering on a seven-game winless streak, Thursday night’s game was one that appeared essential for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to claim, and despite it taking a little bit longer thanks to a 1 hour, 56 minute rain delay, the hosts earned a massive three points against their fellow playoff contender. Two goals in the span of five minutes, moments before a torrential storm blew through Al Lang Stadium, provided the platform for victory, and while FCC had chances in the second half the Rowdies maintained a solid grip on the rhythm of the game to see out the win while also threatening at times to add to their advantage.
2. Alex Morrell made only his fifth start for the Rowdies on Thursday night, but the local standout and former Chicago Fire player made the most of his chance to shine. The right winger connected well when given the chance, but also made the most of his chances to drift in centrally. His effort off the post on the half-hour mark sparked an outstanding final 15 minutes of the first half that saw him first read the play perfectly to loop around Martin Paterson as he drifted toward the near post, and then was unlucky not to find the net himself after a tremendous surging run into the left channel a minute before the break, Joe Cole knocking home the rebound for the Rowdies second. On a night when Tampa Bay’s attack needed a jolt, Morrell provided it.
3. As much as seems to be going FC Cincinnati’s way right now, the loss to the Rowdies is going to put added pressure on Sunday evening’s game against the Richmond Kickers at Nippert Stadium. FCC now sits in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, slipping below the Rochester Rhinos on goal difference after this result. FCC should still be favored to reach the USL Cup Playoffs given the talent on their roster and on the sideline, but every result like this one just ratchets up the pressure a little bit more on their next few league outings.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Alex Morrell, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Morrell only finished the night with one assist, but was the catalyst for much of that which was good in the Rowdies’ attack as they earned a big victory.
Tampa Bay Rowdies at Orlando City B – July 13, 7:30 p.m. ET, Orlando City Stadium
FC Cincinnati vs. Richmond Kickers – July 9, 6 p.m. ET, Nippert Stadium