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 Tampa Bay Rowdies

Rowdies Defeat USF in Preseason Friendly

February 24, 2022 - United Soccer League Championship (USL)
Tampa Bay Rowdies News Release

TAMPA, FL - The Tampa Bay Rowdies produced an impressive offensive showing on their way to victory in their third game of the preseason, defeating the University of South Florida 6-2 at Corbett Soccer Stadium on Wednesday night. Wearing the captain's armband and playing an advanced attacking role up top, veteran Leo Fernandes notched two first-half goals to put the Rowdies up at the break before the floodgates opened for four more goals in the second half.

The Rowdies' attack looked strong even with the club's leading scorer over the last three seasons, Sebastian Guenzatti, not seeing the field on Wednesday.

"I think it was a great overall team performance," said Fernandes. "We have so many great offensive players this year. That's going to be so helpful for the team because you can't just depend on one guy. Seba's been amazing but I think if we have more guys like that, guys that just show up any night and score one or two, it's great for the team."

Neither side had much to show through the opening stages of the game, but the Rowdies were able to gain momentum and put their hosts under sustained pressure and jump ahead in the 20th minute. A corner kick sent in by Jake Areman was initially cleared by USF, but the clearance fell to Yann Ekra just outside the box. Ekra quickly passed the ball for Junior Etou, who fed Areman in the corner for a second chance to serve the ball into the box. USF's keeper punched the ball out only for Rowdies center back Timmy Mehl to collect the ball and find Fernandes inside the left edge of the box. Fernandes fired off a left-footed strike toward goal but it was blocked by a defender right back to Fernandes' feet. This time Fernandes made no mistake as he rifled the ball into the back of the net.

USF then found a way to equalize nine minutes later as the Rowdies lost track of attacker Josh Gomina at the back post, allowing him to volley home a cross.

However, the Rowdies were able to regain the lead a few minutes before the break when Fernandes was mowed down by a defender while charging down the left edge of the box. Fernandes stepped up to the penalty spot and aimed his effort to his left. USF's keeper was able to get his hands on the attempt but failed to keep Fernandes' strike out of the net.

"I think one of the biggest things in the first half was, despite some of our good play, we didn't play with the same level of intensity, the same level of organization that we normally do," said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. "But once we brought that out in the second half I thought we looked like a really good team. I thought the first 30 minutes of the second half were kind of more what we were looking for. We scored some good goals and missed some good chances."

The Rowdies upped their intensity straight out of the halftime break, putting USF under pressure and forcing the hosts into an own goal in the 50th minute as a dangerous cross from Areman ricocheted off a USF defender and into the goal. Just four minutes later, Dayonn Harris drove by several defenders to penetrate the box before slipping a low strike past the keeper.

As he did in last week's preseason game against Orlando City, Collins made changes across the board at the hour mark. The most notable substitutes off the bench were center back Aaron Guillen and Laurence Wyke, who both made their preseason debuts after being held out the last two weeks as they recovered from minor knocks.

The Rowdies continued to maintain their momentum after the changes. Two of the substitutes ended up combining for the fifth goal in the 67th minute. Wyke helped kick off the scoring sequence when he drove toward the end line on the right side of the box and played a ball across goal. Midfielder Lewis Hilton controlled that pass and sent it back into the fray with a lofted cross that found the head of Sebastian Dalgaard for the finish.

The Rowdies went down to ten men for the final ten minutes as Harris was taken off and Collins chose to keep Sebastian Guenzatti on the bench. Harris was not injured, rather Collins was being mindful of how hard to push players knowing the Rowdies have a preseason game on Saturday at the University of North Florida. USF did snag a goal while Rowdies were down a man in the 81st minute, but Lucky Mkosana quickly put the Rowdies back in front by four as he headed home a cross from the left wing for his second goal of the preseason.

"I think the important thing with these games is we're not just going through the motions," said Collins. "We're coming here for a preseason game to prepare us for the first game of the season in Birmingham. That's why we pick good opposition who have given us right, good challenges in the past. We have to be at our best. At times we were and we created some great things. At other times there were aspects we needed to improve, not just for the new players but also for the returning players to build that chemistry. I thought tonight we've seen visible improvements from the last two games. Hopefully we can see more in the next two preseason games."

The Rowdies travel to Jacksonville to face the University of North Florida on Saturday at noon. They then return home for their preseason finale against South Georgia Tormenta FC on Saturday, March 5. The Rowdies are also hosting season ticket holders for an exclusive season kickoff party at Al Lang the night of the Tormenta game. Fans must renew or purchase their season tickets by March 2 in order to RSVP for the kickoff party.

Scoring Summary

TBR - Fernandes, 20th minute

USF - Gomina, 29th minute

TBR - Fernandes, 37th minute (penalty)

TBR - USF Own Goal, 50th minute

TBR - Harris, 54th minute

TBR - Dalgaard (Hilton), 67th minute

USF - Lee, 81th minute

TBR - Mkosana, 86th minute

Rowdies Starting XI: Cochran; Scarlett, Mehl, Antley (Guillen, 61'); Harris, Etou (Wyke, 61'), Ekra (Hilton, 61'), Areman (Dalgaard, 61'); Dos Santos (Mkosana, 61'), Fernandes (Greig, 61'), Tejada (LaCava, 61')

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