Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder Zach Steinberger (center) scored a goal and added two assists to help his side reach the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. | Photo courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG – A goal and two assists from Zach Steinberger helped the Tampa Bay Rowdies advance to the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a convincing 4-1 victory over USL League Two side The Villages SC on Tuesday night at Al Lang Stadium. The home side controlled the early stages of the contest but were held off the scoresheet until late in the first half thanks to a combination of poor finishing, resolute last-ditch defending and impressive goalkeeping from Villages netminder Jerfesson Santana. Santana denied a long-range effort from Steinberger in the 17th minute and kept out a header from Ryan Felix moments later as the Rowdies looked to take advantage of their aerial advantage.
Felix saw another header from the center of the box stopped eight minutes later and Antoine Hoppenot missed a golden opportunity to put the Rowdies in front in the 38th minute, opting to aim for the goalkeeper’s near post from a tight angle rather than aim for the far-left corner. However, the Rowdies finally broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute as Steinberger’s right-wing cross was headed into the roof of the net by Mohamed Kone. The Villages nearly equalized in the second minute of first-half stoppage time as Josh Fawole’s looping header from a corner kick nearly caught out Rowdies goalkeeper Chris Konopka, but instead it was Tampa Bay that found another goal just before the break as the side capitalized on a quick counter attack and Steinberger swept home from the left side of the penalty spot after the visitors had miscued a clearance on a low cross from the right. The visitors nearly found their way back into the game eight minutes after the break as Vandyke Gyau struck the crossbar with a powerful header from Gabriel De Freitas’ delivery, but the ball bounced harmlessly over the woodwork for a goal kick.
The Rowdies essentially killed off the contest just after the hour mark as Steinberger drove to the byline and clipped in a cross from the left that Brandon Allen adjusted his body to volley home into the bottom-right corner. Hoppenot nearly extended the lead to four in the 72nd minute as his left-footed half volley from 20 yards out looped over Santana but struck the crossbar and stayed out. Gyau got the Villages on the board in the 89th minute with a fantastic first-time finish from a tight angle as he side-footed home De Freita’s free kick from just outside the center circle. The visitors’ joy wouldn’t last long however as substitute Leon Taylor rounded Santana in the third minute of stoppage time and found the back of the net from a tight angle to restore the Rowdies’ three-goal advantage and set them up with a Third Round date against fellow Championship side OKC Energy FC at John Crain Field in Norman, Okla. on Tuesday, May 28.