NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies ran their undefeated start to the 2019 USL Championship regular season to 10 games as they took a 1-0 victory on the road against Nashville SC before 6,628 fans at First Tennessee Park on Wednesday night in the USL Championship Game of the Week on ESPN. Here are three takeaways from the contest.
1. BUILT IN HIS IMAGE: For more than 500 professional games, Neill Collins was a rock-solid center back who would do his utmost to make life difficult for any attackers that came his way. In his first season as the Rowdies’ Head Coach he’s built a side that manages to accomplish almost exactly the same thing, which has now resulted in a league-best six shutouts in 10 games to start the 2019 campaign. Even when Nashville went full-on in the second half with 2018 Championship Golden Boot-winner Cameron Lancaster coming in as a substitute, there was little the hosts could do to penetrate the Rowdies’ defensive structure as NSC recorded only seven touches in the penalty area in the second half. The Rowdies had to work hard for their shutout, but right now that seems to be the first order of business for Collins’ squad.
2. MAKING THE MOST OF THINGS: As good as the Rowdies have been defensively this season, Nashville hasn’t been that far behind, and that meant if Tampa Bay was to claim its biggest road result of the season it was going to have to maximize its chances. Leo Fernandes didn’t have his brightest game of the season, but the delivery he put in from a free kick in the 34th minute for Sebastian Guenzatti to go and send back across goal was an illustration of why Fernandes has moved into the contenders for the Championship’s assist title over the past month. As Guenzatti’s header floated back into the six-yard area, a cluster of Rowdies were waiting – just as they’d drawn it up – and Panamanian rookie Juan Tejada got the decisive goal on the night.
3. LACKING THE EDGE: Nashville, by contrast, was unable to take advantage of the set piece opportunities it was afforded as the hosts couldn’t find the final piece of the puzzle against the Rowdies’ stout defense. A great chance fell to Kharlton Belmar in the 16th minute from Taylor Washington’s cross, but his scoreless drought continued as his header went wide of the right post. Those deliveries from the flanks would be the theme for the night for Nashville, which delivered 25 crosses compared to the Rowdies’ seven, but was only able to complete four as the Rowdies’ back line led by Pape Diakite recorded 20 clearances for the contest. There have been and will be better days for NSC’s attack this season, but this was a game where things just didn’t seem to fall into place quite right.