LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In a season of numerous firsts, add another for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Behind a pair of first-half goals by Zach Steinberger and Sebastian Guenzatti, the visitors took a 2-1 victory against Louisville City FC on Saturday night to claim the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference Title at Lynn Family Stadium for the first time, and will host the 2020 USL Championship Final next Sunday night.
Also looking to claim victory on the road against Louisville for the first time since joining the Championship, the Rowdies got out to an ideal start as Steinberger’s first goal of the season put the visitors ahead early. Tampa Bay worked possession down the left side as Juan Tejada found Leo Fernandes in line with the top of the penalty area, and his low cross found Steinberger’s darting run to the near post when he flicked a first-time finish over LouCity goalkeeper Ben Lundt in just the fourth minute.
The hosts, who hadn't conceded the opening goal in the 13-game undefeated streak they had held going into Saturday night's contest, tried to quickly get back into the game as Brian Ownby had a shot nicely blocked by Rowdies defender Jordan Scarlett shortly before LouCity’s Antoine Hoppenot flicked a header high after a cross by Ownby from the right.
Louisville then controlled much of the play over the next half-hour, but the Rowdies selective pressure and solid defending at set pieces kept the hosts from seriously testing goalkeeper Evan Louro. The shot-stopper had to be sharp in the 38th minute as Corben Bone nipped in to steal possession in midfield and drove forward, but his strike from 20 yards was comfortably parried wide of the right post for a corner by a diving Louro.
Despite few chances of its own, Tampa Bay added a crucial second goal in first-half stoppage time as a pass across the field to the right by Guenzatti set up Sebastian Dalgaard to run 1-on-1 against his marker. Dalgaard created space for a right-footed shot that Lundt got down to save, but Guenzatti was on hand to squeeze home the rebound moments before the halftime whistle to give the Rowdies a two-goal cushion and a jolt of energy going into the break.
Louisville quickly got back into the game two minutes into the second half, however, through a good stroke of fortune of its own. Ownby picked up possession on the right and curled a left-footed delivery into the penalty area that went just over the head of Cameron Lancaster but deflected into the net off Rowdies defender Max Lachowecki.
The hosts went close again in the 55th minute as Oscar Jimenez had a shot from 20 yards comfortably saved by Louro, but as the half went on while LouCity had more of the possession, Tampa Bay’s defense remained organized to limit the clear looks it allowed. A cross from the right by Speedy Williams in the 78th minute was chested down by second-half substitute Joel Johnson only to go through to Louro instead of finding Bone, who was looping around the Jamaican as the cross arrived and would have had a clear look on goal.
Tampa Bay, in fact, went close to adding a third with five minutes to go as a corner from the right by Steinberger found Forrest Lasso for a header that slid just wide of the left post. But unlike a season ago, this time there would be no last hurrah for Louisville as the Rowdies stifled their last-ditch attempts to find an equalizer and set up the chance to claim their first title in the USL Championship next Sunday night.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Sebastian Guenzatti, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Guenzatti’s goal late in first-half stoppage time – which derived from his pass wide to Sebastian Dalgaard – proved the difference in another fine all-around performance leading the Rowdies’ line.