ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti led the way for the hosts with two goals and one assist in a 3-0 victory against the Charlotte Independence as the defending Eastern Conference Title holders opened their defense in impressive fashion at Al Lang Stadium.
The Independence settled more quickly and created the first look on goal as Jake Areman had an early chance blocked away to safety by Rowdies defender Jordan Scarlett, but the hosts countered in the 19th minute as Zach Steinberger set up Laurence Wyke for a low shot to the right corner that was saved by Charlotte goalkeeper Brandon Miller. Guenzatti also had a chance to give the hosts the lead five minutes before halftime as an errant clearance by Miller from outside his penalty area came to him 25 yards from goal, but Charlotte’s defense recovered in time to close out any clear opportunity.
With the game scoreless at the break, Charlotte produced a big early chance in the second half as new arrival Thomas de Villardi sent a strong header to the bottom-right corner of the net off a free kick by Areman that forced an excellent low save by Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro. Shortly before the hour-mark, however, the Rowdies were given the chance to take the lead from the penalty spot as Wyke was brought down in the penalty area and Guenzatti made no mistake, firing into the left corner.
The Rowdies then quickly pulled away late, recording two goals in three minutes to seal all three points. The first came in the 77th minute on Guenzatti’s second of the night as a Charlotte defender tried to clear a free kick by Lewis Hilton into the penalty area, only for the header to find Forrest Lasso in the left side of the box. Lasso’s header back across goal found Guenzatti, who nodded home from close range.
Guenzatti then laid on the third for Leo Fernandes, running onto a through-ball by Steevan Dos Santos into the right side of the penalty area before cutting a first-time pass to the left that allowed Fernandes to crisply fire home, and close out the win for the hosts.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Sebastian Guenzatti, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Guenzatti had a hand in all three Rowdies tallies with two goals and one assist in big second-half performance.
TBR – Sebastian Guenzatti (PK) 59’
TBR – Sebastian Guenzatti (Forrest Lasso) 77’
TBR – Leo Fernandes (Sebastian Guenzatti) 79’