ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Goals by Lucky Mkosana and Leo Fernandes two minutes apart sent the Tampa Bay Rowdies to a 4-2 victory against Birmingham Legion FC at Al Lang Stadium and into the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs.
Tampa Bay claimed victory despite letting a two-goal halftime lead slip as Legion FC produced a spirited comeback early in the second half before the two Rowdies veterans put the game to bed with a pair of clinical finishes.
The Rowdies got on the front foot early and took the lead in the eighth minute from a training ground corner kick. The delivery from the right by Zach Steinberger was sent directly to Jordan Doherty at the top of the penalty area, and the young Irish midfielder unleashed a thunderbolt into the top-left corner of the net to put the hosts head.
The sides exchanged chances midway through the opening half as the Rowdies’ Sebastian Guenzatti fired a low shot that was smothered by Legion FC goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel in the 24th minute, while on the half-hour mark Birmingham’s Prosper Kasim curled an effort just high and wide of the top-left corner from the top-right edge of the penalty area.
The Rowdies struck again seven minutes before halftime, however, as Steinberger found Sebastian Dalgaard on the right side, and the Danish midfielder created space as he cut toward the goal line and fired a low cross that Guenzatti connected with to fire into the roof of the net and make it a two-goal game at the break.
Birmingham almost got an ideal start to the second half as Neco Brett raced onto a long ball over the top and slid his finish past Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro as he came off his line, but Tampa Bay defender Aaron Guillen was able to cover and clear the danger just inside the six-yard area. The visitors struck in the 58th minute, however, as Prosper Kasim fired home a left-footed volley just inside the right post after the ball had redirected in the air in the Rowdies’ penalty area after a corner kick from the left was taken short and aimed toward Alex Crognale at the back post.
Five minutes later, Legion FC was level as the visitors turned over possession near midfield and quickly sent the ball forward to Neco Brett in the left channel, who controlled and then picked out Bruno Lapa as he arrived centrally for a first-time shot into the bottom-left corner of the net.
Brett went close to a third a few minutes later as he fired a shot from 25 yards that flashed over the crossbar, but then in the final 15 minutes momentum swung back the way of the Rowdies as two second-half substitutes connected. After Dalgaard found Malik Johnson on the right flank in space, the Canadian laid in a perfect delivery for Mkosana, who found space between two defenders to sent a header back off the inside of the right post and into the back of the net with 12 minutes to go.
Mkosana then played a key role two minutes later as the Rowdies restored their two-goal edge, outmuscling his opponent on the right flank before quickly shifting play centrally to Guenzatti. Tampa Bay’s captain slowed play for a moment to allow Fernandes to fly up on his left, and after a simple pass Fernandes stood up his defender and fired a low shot into the bottom-right corner of the net.
The Rowdies almost added a fifth in stoppage time as he got in behind the Legion FC defense as the ball squirted forward after a challenge in the Birmingham half, only to see his finish find the left side-netting. It proved academic, though, as the Rowdies moved on for their first victory since the 2017 season.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Sebastian Guenzatti, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Guenzatti scored once and added an assist and completed 32 of 36 passes overall in a complete forward performance in his side’s victory.