Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies took a 2-0 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC before a sellout crowd of 7,368 fans at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night. Steel FC had a pair of early chances through Marcus Epps and Cory Burke, but the Rowdies believed they had taken the lead just before halftime as Leo Fernandes appeared to have forced the ball over the line after a big double-save by Bethlehem goalkeeper John McCarthy, only for the assistant referee to rule the ball hadn’t crossed the line. Tampa Bay made sure that wouldn’t derail its pursuit of three points with two goals in the second half, however, as Georgi Hristov first headed home Jack Blake’s free kick in the 62nd minute and Fernandes got on the scoresheet with a low shot six minutes later. Steel FC’s James Chambers almost cut the deficit in half, forcing a good save by Rowdies goalkeeper Cody Mizell, but the Rowdies held firm to earn the shutout victory.
62’ – TBR – Georgi Hristov (Jack Blake)
68’ – TBR – Leo Fernandes (David Najem)
Three Things That Matter:
1. The Rowdies were rewarded for their relentless pressure as both Georgi Hristov and Leo Fernandes scored their second goals in as many games this season to earn the hosts a second consecutive victory to start the season. The manner in which the Rowdies swept forward consistently was once again impressive, and if not for a stellar display in goal by Steel FC goalkeeper John McCarthy the margin of victory could have been wider for the hosts as they continued to look like one of the teams to beat this season.
2. Bethlehem produced back-to-back good chances from Marcus Epps and Corey Burke in the opening 10 minutes that forced a pair of good saves from Rowdies goalkeeper Cody Mizell and could it have taken either it could have changed the complexion of the game somewhat. The absence of defenders Mark McKenzie and Matt Real from the side’s opening day lineup – with both on duty with the U.S. U20 National Team – seemed to make a difference on the night defensively as the Rowdies pressured strongly down the flanks and completed eight of 31 crosses, one of which resulted in the opening goal.
3. Both teams produced quality in possession, completing more than 80 percent of their passes respectively, but the tempo and incisiveness the Rowdies showed in getting the ball into attacking positions, giving both fullbacks David Najem and Zac Portillos the chance to join the attack, proved the difference in the game. Al Lang Stadium was one of the toughest places to play in the USL a season ago, and on Saturday night it was once again.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Leo Fernandes, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Fernandes was rewarded with a goal after a strong display overall as he registered five shots on goal and two key passes.
Tampa Bay Rowdies at Louisville City FC – March 31, 7:30 p.m. ET, Slugger Field
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Nashville SC – March 31, 2 p.m. ET, Goodman Stadium