LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies claimed their first USL Championship Eastern Conference Title on Saturday night as a 2-1 victory against Louisville City FC at Lynn Family Stadium saw them take the title.
Here are three takeaways from the contest that saw the club earn its first trip to the USL Championship Final.
1. TIMING IS EVERYTHING: The opening goal has been crucial throughout the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs. After the Rowdies’ victory on Saturday night, 12 of the 13 teams to get the lead have gone on to victory, but what mattered even more for the Rowdies was the earliness of Zach Steinberger’s stylish finish in the fourth minute against Louisville, and that of Sebastian Guenzatti’s marker late in first-half stoppage time. Coaches emphasize the opening and closing minutes of a half, and with Steinberger putting the Rowdies on top as quickly as he did it immediately allowed the visitors to settle into the contest. Guenzatti’s goal – a beautiful example of the Uruguayan’s ability to be in the right place at the right time – put a bow on what had been an almost ideal half for the visitors and sent them into the locker room knowing they had work to do, but on a major high nonetheless.
2. LOCKING DOWN LANCASTER: Cameron Lancaster has been one of the most difficult forwards for opponents to contain in the Championship’s history, but the Rowdies’ back line did a superb job of limiting the English forward’s looks over the course of the 90 minutes. A key element to that was cutting off the supply line – Yann Ekra in particular came through in that regard winning 3 of 3 tackles and making seven recoveries while winning 10 of 12 duels – and that left Lancaster with little to work with on the night. With Tampa Bay’s backline getting to the punch first when balls did get delivered into the penalty area as the side overall notched 31 clearances, Lancaster recorded only four touches inside the Rowdies’ box and with only two shots overall, one off target and one blocked.
3. MOVING THE PIECES: Tampa Bay was dealt what could have been a tough break midway through the first half as defender Jordan Scarlett was forced to come off with an injury during the first-half hydration break. The defender had played every minute of the season to that point, and had already had a positive impact on the game with a block of a shot by LouCity’s Brian Ownby early on. But Rowdies’ Head Coach Neill Collins used his bench very effectively, first bringing in the reliable Max Lachowecki to take Scarlett’s place, and then moving Lachowecki up into the right wingback position when he removed Sebastian Dalgaard for Alex Davey, who made his debut in the green and gold on Saturday night. Lachowecki got unlucky for Louisville’s goal, certainly, but was still tidy overall, while Davey barely put a foot wrong with five clearances and winning 2 of 2 duels in his 22 minutes of action.