ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Steevan Dos Santos scored his second goal in as many games to lead the Tampa Bay Rowdies to a 2-1 victory against Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday night in an enthralling contest between the USL Championship’s defending Eastern and Western Conference Title holders at Al Lang Stadium.
The Rowdies got out to a flying start, and their early pressure led to the opening goal in just the fourth minute. Dos Santos turned his marker in the left channel and drove forward before delivering a low cross into the top of the six-yard area where Phoenix’s Aodhan Quinn tried to clear behind, only to inadvertently redirect the ball into his own net.
Dos Santos had a chance to double the Rowdies’ lead six minutes later as Zach Steinberger charged down an attempted clearance that saw the ball land at the feet of the Cape Verde forward, but his shot from 12 yards flashed over the crossbar. A minute later, Dos Santos threatened again, but couldn’t control his finish after Steinberger cut back a low ball from the left side of the penalty area for a first-time finish.
After a shaky opening spell, Phoenix found its footing and Quinn twice had a chance to equalize, first firing a low shot from the left side of the penalty that Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro got down well to save as it arrowed toward the right corner. Then two minutes later, Santi Moar passed back to Quinn after being played into the left side of the penalty area as Louro came off his line, but Quinn sent his shot wide of the right post as the Rowdies’ defense scrambled to cover.
The game began to even out after the opening flurry as the Rowdies took their lead to the break, but Phoenix opened the game more sharply to start the second half and started to build pressure in the opening 10 minutes after the break. That pressure was relieved for the hosts on the hour-mark as Leo Fernandes got on the end of a cross from the right by Steinberger and produced a great save from Rising FC’s Ben Lundt. Off the ensuing corner, however, Forrest Lasso rose highest in the penalty area to head on target, and while Lundt made the initial save, Dos Santos was on hand to tap home the rebound.
Tampa Bay’s two-goal lead was short-lived, though, as Phoenix hit back in the 68th minute. A long ball upfield by James Musa was flicked on by Rufat Dadashov to Moar, who rifled home a finish from 25 yards into the left corner of the net. The Rowdies almost answered seven minutes later as Aaron Guillen did well to get to the byline on the left and cut back a ball for Dos Santos, but his shot was just kept out by Lundt and cleared.
Ultimately, though, Tampa Bay was able to remain in control as the minutes ticked down, giving its visitors few clear looks to find a late equalizer. Throwing numbers forward, including Lundt for a late pair of set pieces, Rising FC pushed, but the Rowdies held firm to finish their business.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Steevan Dos Santos, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Dos Santos scored what proved to be the winning goal after playing a role in the opener and finished with a game-high seven shots as well as winning 12 of 23 duels.
TBR – Aodhan Quinn (Own Goal) 4’
TBR – Steevan Dos Santos 61’
PHX – Santi Moar (Rufat Dadashov) 68’