Three Things: North Carolina 4 - 2 Rowdies
CARY, N.C. - The Tampa Bay Rowdies were far from their best Wednesday night, falling 4-2 to surging North Carolina FC on a disappointing night on the road.
It was Tampa Bay's second road loss this season and leaves the Rowdies in third place in the USL Championship's Eastern Conference. The Rowdies are four points behind New York Red Bulls II but have the benefit of a game in hand.
Here's Three Things from the match...
1. No fun North Carolina
If a Rowdies vs. North Carolina FC match comes to fruition in the USL Championship playoffs, Tampa Bay will need to fight off some bad mojo from this regular season. While the Rowdies have been at or near the top of the table all year, North Carolina has fully had their numbers.
In two meetings this regular season, the Rowdies have lost twice by a combined margin of 7-3. Tampa Bay opened the year on a 13-game unbeaten run only to see it snapped on home turf with a 3-1 loss to Dave Sarachan's side. Those three goals were the most allowed by the Rowdies this season until last night's four goals scored by, yes, that same North Carolina team.
The Rowdies have only conceded 20 goals in 24 matches this season and seven of those (35 percent) have been to a single opponent.
Admittedly, North Carolina got a little bit of scoring help last night from an unfortunate own goal scored by Rowdies centerback Pape Diakite. NCFC's Manny Perez made a great solo run down the right wing and cut inside on the endline before sending a low cross that Diakite backheeled past goalkeeper Macklin Robinson to make the score 3-1. It was the first Rowdies own goal since Akira Fitzgerald got unlucky in a match against Toronto FC II on July 4, 2018.
2. Seba ties a record
There's something about WakeMed Soccer Park that brings the best out of Rowdies forward Sebastian Guenzatti.
Last season, Guenzatti recorded a hat trick in a 3-0 victory, joining Rowdies legend Georgi Hristov as the only two players in modern team history with a hat trick.
Last night, Guenzatti scored to again equal Hristov's name in the record book.
With 13 goals this season, the Uruguayan forward has tied Hristov for most goals in a regular season. Hristov scored 13 in the 2017 regular season and then added two more in the playoffs to set the single-season scoring record with 15 goals.
Guenzatti has started all 24 matches this year and averages 0.54 goals per game. With 10 matches left he seems a good bet to break at least the regular season scoring record down the home stretch, maybe even the single season scoring record.
3. Tennessee two-step
How do you assess where the Rowdies currently sit in the playoff race? Tampa Bay is just about touching distance to first place with a four-point gap and a game in hand, but also faces pressure from below. Indy, in particular, could shake the top of the table up with three games in hand on Tampa Bay and four on everyone else.
After losing once in 20 games, losing three of four makes it feel like the Rowdies have bottomed out. But four losses is still tied for the fewest in the entire conference. Of the 10 teams currently in the playoff field, only Birmingham hasn't lost in the last five games as the East tightens up.
FiveThirtyEight.com still forecasts the Rowdies as the team most likely to win the Eastern Conference, despite the dip in form.
Neill Collins wasn't ready to hit the panic button after Wednesday night's defeat, saying, "Recently there have been two or three things that have crept into our game that have cost us, but (there's) no panic. No panic at all. We know we're doing a lot of good things and we'll get some people back fit and we'll be ready to go strong between now and the end of the season."
What's clear is that Tampa Bay needs to get back on track sooner rather than later. Ten games remain in the regular season, starting with back-to-back home games against the two Tennessee teams, Memphis 901 FC on Saturday night and Nashville SC on August 31. With a good homestand, things will feel totally different as September arrives.
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