ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A first-half goal by Derek Dodson and five-save shutout by Jeff Caldwell proved enough for Hartford Athletic to earn a 1-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Tuesday night at Al Lang Stadium in a game that saw the hosts record 20 shots but come up short of finding the net to suffer their first consecutive defeats since the 2019 Championship regular season.
Looking to rebound back on home turf, the Rowdies almost made an ideal start was a flicked header by Matthew Srbely sent Dayonn Harris into space on the right side. Harris moved forward toward the penalty area and delivered a good low ball into the top of the six-yard area but Sebastian Guenzatti sent his finish under pressure over the crossbar.
Hartford’s first half-chance arrived inside the opening 10 minutes, too, as Dodson controlled a ball into the right corner and after a quick exchange of passes delivered a low left-footed cross that Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro came to claim but directed into onrushing Athletic forward Sebastian Elney, only for the ball to bounce just wide of the right post for a goal kick.
Guenzatti almost put the hosts ahead in the 19th minute as the Rowdies’ defensive pressure forced a turnover by the visitors. A flicked header by Srbely sent the ball to Tampa Bay’s captain in the left side of the penalty area, and he cut back onto his right foot to create a lane to shoot to the right corner, but saw his effort come off the base of the post and be cleared to safety.
Five minutes later, however, the Athletic opened the scoring on their first official shot of the game. Preston Tabort Etaka ran onto a lifted pass into the left corner of the attacking third and delivered a good cross to the back post where Dodson rose above his marker and sent his header into the bottom-right corner of the net.
Tampa Bay quickly got back onto the front foot and its pressure produced more near-misses late in the first half. Leo Fernandes first sent an inventive heel-flick finish from 12 yards just wide of the right post after being fed by Guenzatti, while the Rowdies captain was twice denied on close-range headers by Caldwell inside the final five minutes before the break.
The hosts weren’t able to maintain their momentum into the second half, however, and it was Hartford that had a pair of chances through Dodson, who fired well high and wide of the net shortly after the break, and Danny Barrera, whose curling finish just past the hour-mark clipped the top of the net as it went over the top-left corner. Coming on as a second-half substitute for Tampa Bay, Laurence Wyke almost had an immediate impact but leaned back too much as he shot from the edge of the penalty area after a good buildup, corkscrewing his effort well off target.
The Rowdies saw another close-range chance come their way with 20 minutes to go as Jordan Adebayo-Smith’s cross from the right found Guenzatti, only for his header to go wide of the left post. The hosts then threatened again in the 83rd minute as a corner kick from the right wasn’t fully cleared by Hartford’s defense, allowing Zach Steinberger to gain the recycled possession and dart into a seam in the right side of the box for a clear shot, but his low effort was saved by Caldwell with his legs and the rebound cleared.
Caldwell came up with another key stop in second minute of stoppage time as a low cross from the right by Conner Antley was flicked on by Fernandes at the near post, partially blocked by a sliding Alex Lara and then smothered by the goalkeeper. Wyke then curled a finish just wide of the right post before a shot by Fernandes appeared to be blocked by the arm of Hartford’s Tulu as he went to ground.
The Rowdies’ night was summed up, though, by one wild sequence deep in stoppage time as a cross by Antley from the right was redirected by a Hartford defender at the near post onto his own crossbar before being followed up by shots from Guenzatti and Fernandes that were each blocked inside the box. The visitors final stand earned victory and closed the gap on the Atlantic Division leaders to four points.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Jeff Caldwell, Hartford Athletic – Caldwell recorded a five-save shutout including key saves late in either half that kept the Rowdies at bay as the Athletic emerged with a remarkable victory.
HFD – Derek Dodson (Preston Tabort Etaka) 24’