Three Things: Bethlehem 1 - 2 Rowdies
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Tampa Bay Rowdies will be in first place for another week after earning a 2-1 road win over Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday evening. The win was the Rowdies fifth victory away from home in seven road games this year, surpassing last year's road win total with 10 games to spare.
Here's Three Things from the match...
1. Skid stopped
Want to know how good of a season the Rowdies are having? Going two matches without a win leading into this match felt like a legitimate slump for the table-topping Rowdies. A loss to North Carolina (which currently sits in the top five) and a draw against Charleston in which the Rowdies were two minutes away from winning had us wondering if Tampa Bay could ever break out of that bad form. Not really, but it's nice that that's behind the Rowdies now.
Though the final score was 2-1 and the statistics show a fairly even match, the Rowdies were in complete control until Bethlehem's stoppage time penalty. Having scored only 13 minutes in, Tampa Bay was in cruise control for basically the entire match. Steel FC's only two shots on target from open play were soft shots that fell comfortably into Rowdies goalkeeper John McCarthy's hands with virtually no chance of going in. The penalty kick decision was debatable and without it, Bethlehem wouldn't have had a quality chance in the entire match.
It's the second consecutive game the Rowdies have conceded a goal in the 88th minute or later, which is basically the only criticism that could be levied against Tampa Bay for its performance Saturday.
2. Together Rowdies
Besides stellar road form, another huge strength of the Rowdies this season has been the way they attack together as a team and defend together as a team.
They provided an excellent example of this mentality late in Saturday's match, as evidenced by the clip below.
Yann Ekra has the ball after a Zach Steinberger interception and the Rowdies pour forward en masse. Six Rowdies are in Bethlehem's 18-yard box trying to put the game fully out of reach with 10 minutes to go. However, lest you think that's a little reckless given the scoreboard and clock situation and leaves the Rowdies vulnerable to a counter attack, watch how hard the Rowdies work together.
Tampa Bay turns the ball over and the Rowdies break into a dead sprint to get back as a unit. By the time Bethlehem gets the ball into the box, the Rowdies have the numerical advantage in place and nothing comes of the counter. Tampa Bay gets a touch on the ball and Ekra takes possession just outside his own box, having led the charge into Bethlehem's box less than 30 seconds earlier.
At that point in the match, the Rowdies have played a high defensive press for 80 minutes. They're on the road in a quiet atmosphere and a victory is pretty clearly in sight. You could forgive them if they only sent three players into the attacking box or only jogged back defensively.
Still, they pressed on for a goal and when it didn't work out, they busted their tails to get back into shape and defend.
It's a great example of why the Rowdies have been so successful in the first half of this season.
3. Strikers strike
The Rowdies have been very consistent with Neill Collins' preferred 3-5-2 this season, starting two strikers in every match to date. That said, something happened in last night's match that hadn't happened at all in league play and had only happened once in all competitions.
Both starting strikers scored.
Prior to Saturday, the only time all season that both starting strikers had scored was when Brandon Allen and Antoine Hoppenot did it in Tampa Bay's 4-3 U.S. Open Cup loss to Oklahoma City. Despite starting two strikers in all 15 USL Championship games going into the weekend, the Rowdies hadn't yet had a game where both strikers struck.
Tampa Bay's two leading scorers this year, Sebastian Guenzatti and Juan Tejada, have started alongside one another as a strike partnership 10 times this year, but only just now did they both score in the same game. Guenzatti leads the team with eight goals. Tejada now has five in his rookie season.
Now, it's fair to point out that the combined distance of the two goals was only about 12 yards, but strikers exist to score goals. Whether they're beautiful or not is of little consequence.
Here's to seeing the names "Guenzatti" and "Tejada" on the score sheet together more often.
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