Rowdies finish even with Birmingham Legion FC
By JJ Pavlick
The match tonight between the Rowdies and Birmingham has lots on the line for the playoff race. The Rowdies are trying to gain on Memphis and Louisville while holding off Birmingham and Pittsburgh. There is a decent size crowd at Al Lang for tonight’s matchup with an announced attendance of 5,150. Expecting tonight to be a tough match with both sides having a history of ties and 1 goal victories over each other.
The match is underway under the lights of Al Lang Stadium and the Rowdies are wasting no time pressuring the Birmingham back line. Dos Santos heads one just wide of the post in the opening minute of the match. He didn’t miss by much; the Rowdies are looking strong at home. Ekra creates a turnover and heads up the pitch toward the goal where he is taken out by the Birmingham defender who is looking for a role in the new Cobra Kai series. Not sure how he is getting away with no card after flying in studs up right into Ekra’s body. The referee decides a nice little chat is instead warranted over the card. Can’t say I agree, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out tonight. The Rowdies do nothing with the free kick as they make a sloppy pass across the pitch which Birmingham easily takes. The pups in the crowd are voicing their displeasure with the play from the Rowdies. There is a good number of dogs in attendance for tonight’s match. Breno makes a big save with his chin after the turnover to keep the game level at 0-0. Breno boots the goal kick deep into the midfield where MVP Leo Fernandes settles it and makes a quick pass to Sebastian Guenzatti. The two keep making quick short passes back and forth to each other as they head toward the goal. Leo dances past the final two defenders and fires a hard shot on frame, which requires the keeper to make a huge diving save but gives up a juicy rebound that Dos Santos can’t bury. The match stays level at 0-0, Birmingham sends the goal kick 30 yards from the goal and Tampa bounces on it. Leo takes the ball toward the goal and is fouled 19 yards from the goal. Hilton takes the free kick, and it hits the wall deflecting toward midfield. Birmingham takes possession and pushes toward the Rowdies goal. Marlon Santos makes no mistakes and sends a rocket into the goal, giving Birmingham a 1-0 lead 10 minutes into the match. A few minutes later Seba earns a free kick for the Rowdies 18 yards from the goal just barely outside the box. The referee shows a yellow card to Enzo Martinez of the Legions. Hilton has a go and fires wide to the right of the goal. However, the Birmingham keeper did make a touch and so the Rowdies get a corner kick. Hilton takes the corner and overhits it which sends the ball sailing over everyone. Birmingham takes the poor cross and tries to break out fast on the counter. Castellanos intercepts the pass that would’ve sent Santos in on goal 1 v 1 with Breno. He finds Ekra who dribbles past two defenders and fires a shot 18 yards from the goal. The ball unfortunately was miss-hit and headed to the arena for the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning. In the 17th minute, Leo creates a turnover 20 yards from goal he finds Dalgaard who flicks the ball back to Leo who scores in a fashion that only “The Samba Man” can. He strikes the ball with the side of his left foot sending a bender into the near post for the tying GOAL! Jaws are dropping across the world after the Brazilian star scores a goal only, he can. That goal is just further proof why Leo “The Samba Man” Fernandes is not just the team MVP this season but is highly considered the USL Championship League MVP. In the 29th minute, Leo breaks in on goal the same as he did when he scored, his shot is saved this time with the fingertips stopping the Rowdies from going up 2-1. That save was great and the only reason this match is still a 1-1 tie. A minute later Scarlett attempts to head the ball out and it nearly goes behind Breno for an own goal. That was a wild minute of play on both ends, we could easily have a different game right now. Birmingham takes the cross, but Tampa intercepts and maintains control. Dalgaard walks off the pitch with an apparent injury, so the Rowdies are playing down a man right now. Birmingham tries to capitalize on it and play a ball into the box, Dos Santos Bicycle kicks the ball out of danger to midfield. In the 32nd minute, Dalgaard returns to play, and the sides are back to 11 v 11 soccer. A minute later Leo finds Dos Santos in the box, but he wasn’t paying attention and the ball goes out of play. For those keeping track, Sebastian Guenzatti is Tampa Bay’s backup goalkeeper tonight. In the 36th minute, Leo breaks past his defender and places a low cross into the box, Dos Santos and Seba just miss putting a foot on it for the tap-in goal. Leo has been playing insane out there trying to get the 3 points for his club, the young Brazilian has no quit in him and continues his tear giving defenders and midfielders nightmares this season. In the 40th minute, Leo fires a shot from 19 yards out, the last defender gets just enough of it to send the shot inches wide of the goal for a corner kick. Two minutes later Tampa’s #33 Guillen commits a tripping foul and is issued a yellow card. The fourth official announces a minimum of 2 extra minutes being added to the 1st half. A yellow card is issued to Birmingham’s #8 Lapa in the 45’+2. The center decides he has seen enough and ends the 1st half.
Both teams stick with their lineups to start the 2nd half of the match, and the Rowdies’ defense continues to struggle with their passes tonight. In the 49th minute, Wyke finds Ekra with a perfect pass, he misses the goal completely from 4 yards out. He must do better with that ball, especially in a situation where 3 points are huge for his club. In the 52nd minute, Leo finds Seba with a great cross, his shot is blocked by the last center-back and cleared out of danger for Birmingham. Leo and Seba continue their harassment of the Birmingham back line. The fans at Al Lang are trying to will their team to victory, especially the kids and puppies. In the 60th minute, Ekra misplays another ball in the Rowdies’ box, and it was almost a costly mistake. Breno comes up huge and stones the striker from point-blank range. Birmingham takes the corner kick and Leo Fernandes clears it out and starts the counterattack. Birmingham ends the threat after Dos Santos ran both men marking him right into Leo Fernandes who was about to be in on goal. A poor run by Dos Santos cost his team a great goal-scoring opportunity right there. It’s just another in a long list of mistakes made by the club that’s usually all about precision. In the 62nd minute, Leo breaks past three defenders and sends a cross into the box, but no one is there to bury it. Birmingham plays it out for a throw. In the 89th minute, Leo is fouled at the top of the box but the referee who was feet away misses it and Birmingham tries to counter. The fourth official announces a minimum of 4 extra minutes will be added to the second half. In the 90’+1 Tampa Bay brings on #77 Lucky for #27 Wyke, the Rowdies take the corner kick, and Lucky heads the ball on goal, saved by the keeper. The rebound finds Fernandes who hits LaCava with the pass, his shot is blocked and cleared out for a throw-in. In the 95th minute, the center blows his whistle to end the match in a 1-1 tie.
Leo Fernandes was The Man Of The Match with his insane goal and great play all night. Tampa will gladly take the point but would’ve loved to leave with the full 3 points to improve their playoff standing.