ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It’s good to have Lucky, who’s good.
For a second consecutive week in the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs, Lucky Mkosana provided the winner as the second-half substitute lifted the Tampa Bay Rowdies to a 1-0 victory against the Charleston Battery in the Eastern Conference Semifinals clash at Al Lang Stadium.
The victory marked the first time the Rowdies had advanced to the Eastern Conference Final since joining the Championship prior to the 2017 season.
Mkosana’s goal was his fourth of the season, with all four having come after he was introduced as a substitute. Arriving in the 79th minute off a well-delivered free kick by Zach Steinberger, it proved the difference for the hosts and denied the Battery as they sought to continue their run toward a fifth league title.
The Rowdies had produced the first chance of the game in the third minute when a deep corner kick from the left by Steinberger found Jordan Scarlett at the back post only for his header to go high and wide of the top-right corner of the net. Tampa Bay continued to look to get on the front foot early, but the Battery withstood some early pressure before the game started to settle into a more even contest.
Charleston’s first real look at goal didn’t arrive until the 28th minute as Zeiko Lewis set up Mauro Cichero for a bouncing finish from the top of the penalty area that slid wide of the right post. Steinberger then threatened with seven minutes to go before the break as a nice piece of interplay with Juan Tejada set up a shot from 25 yards that was comfortably handled by Battery goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky to send the game to the break scoreless.
The Battery threatened five minutes into the second half as Lewis chased down a ball forward into the right channel and eluded his defender but his left-footed shot to the near post was held by Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro.
Chances proved few and far between for both sides as the half went on, but with 20 minutes to go Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins introduced the same trio that helped decide its contest in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Birmingham Legion FC as Mkosana, Leo Fernandes and Malik Johnson entered.
It didn’t take long for the desired effect to arrive for the hosts. In the 79th minute the Rowdies were awarded a free kick on the left side and Steinberger’s delivery picked out Mkosana for his second playoff goal in as many games as his header found the left corner of the net.
The Zimbabwean almost added a second two minutes later as he raced forward on a counterattack down the right side and into the penalty area only for Kuzminsky to get a hand to his low shot and keep the Battery within a goal. The Battery’s Logan Gdula then tried his luck with a long-range effort that found the target but was comfortably saved by Louro.
Charleston continued to press late, but the Rowdies’ defense held firm to keep the visitors from a clean look on goal as the game ticked inside the final five minutes. The Battery almost created one final chance in the depths of stoppage time, but after Lewis’ clever cross from the right with the outside of his left boot drifted just out of reach of Arthur Bosua and wide of the right post, the final whistle went on the ensuing goal kick to send the hosts and the fans in attendance into celebration.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Lucky Mkosana, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Mkosana made the difference again coming off the bench, scoring the winner and almost adding an insurance goal to lift the Rowdies to victory.