Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies re-entered the top four in the USL Eastern Conference with a 1-0 victory against the Charlotte Independence in front of a crowd of 7,786 fans at Al Lang Stadium. Charlotte threatened in the 18th minute as a chipped pass by Lewis Hilton opened up a chance for Jaime Siaj, but the rookie shot high and wide from just inside the penalty area. The Rowdies then got a chance from an indirect free kick in the Independence penalty area six minutes later when a sliding challenge by Charlotte defender Donnie Smith to deny a chance for Tampa Bay’s Alex Morrell was picked up by goalkeeper Cody Mizell, but the Independence charged down Marcel Schäfer’s effort on goal. Tampa Bay threatened again from a corner kick in the 32nd minute as Hunter Gorskie’s header was cleared off the line by the Independence’s Callum Ross, but from the ensuing corner kick Gorskie’s second chance cross the line before Mizell could parry it to safety. The Rowdies almost doubled their lead shortly before halftime, but Martin Paterson blazed a finish high, while Joe Cole had a shot blocked away early in the second half as his shot was headed to the right corner. Schäfer also went close for the hosts, forcing a low save by Mizell in the 57th minute, and Charlotte found the net soon after through joel Johnson, only for the flag to be up for offside. The Independence again went close with 17 minutes to go as Yann Ekra hit the right post with a curling effort, Enzo Martinez being then called offside as he put away the rebound, while Jorge Herrera’s curling effort was brilliantly turned away by Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Rowdies defender Darnell King made a big goal-line clearance to deny Martinez with five minutes to go, while Siaj headed over in stoppage time for the visitors, but the Rowdies held on for a big three points.
33’ – TBR – Hunter Gorskie (Marcel Schäfer)
Three Things That Matter:
1. If Tampa Bay wanted to earn a home playoff game in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, Saturday’s game loomed large in its chances. Thanks to a goal in his first start for the club by Hunter Gorskie and some good pieces of fortune in the defensive end the Rowdies got their 10th home win of the season and opened a busy conclusion to the season with a win. Gorskie and his defensive teammates were put under a lot of pressure in the final 30 minutes particularly, and needed a top-shelf save by Matt Pickens to preserve the advantage, but ended up doing just enough for a big victory.
2. The Independence had a tough week, and the side will be disappointed not to have taken something from its first visit to Al Lang Stadium in club history. As it had on Wednesday night against the Charleston Battery the Independence had good spells, especially in the second half as they pushed for an equalizer, but either the final didn’t connect, or the Rowdies did just enough to deny them. Charlotte will welcome a return home on Friday night, but the challenge brought by FC Cincinnati will need a good display to help it preserve a top-two finish at the end of the season.
3. As pleased as the Rowdies will have been to eke out a victory against one of the teams sitting above it in the Eastern Conference standings, the way results elsewhere on Saturday night gave Tampa Bay a big bonus. The Rowdies moved ahead of Rochester as the Rhinos fell 1-0 against the Richmond Kickers, and moved within range of both the Independence and the Charleston Battery, who suffered a 2-1 defeat to Orlando City B. With two games in hand on both Charlotte and Charleston, the chance at a second-place finish is now wide open as the Rowdies head to visit Bethlehem Steel FC on Wednesday afternoon.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Hunter Gorskie, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Gorskie scored in his first start for the Rowdies, and then was part of a stalwart defensive effort that allowed it to stand as the winner.
Tampa Bay Rowdies at Bethlehem Steel FC – September 27, 3 p.m. ET, Goodman Stadium
Charlotte Independence vs. FC Cincinnati – September 29, 7 p.m. ET, Sportsplex at Mathews