Tampa Bay Rowdies Beat Orange County in Must Win Game
By JJ Pavlick
Today’s game was a must-win for the Tampa Bay Rowdies if they wanted to stay in the playoff picture. They came in 6 points behind 1st place Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference. They’re currently sitting in 3rd place, 1 point behind 2nd place Memphis 901 FC with a game in hand on both teams. Earlier in the day Tampa manager Collins was on with the Tampa Rowdies radio podcast taking questions from the fans. I suggested a front with Jake LaCava, Leonardo Fernandes, and El Capitán Seba Guenzatti. The trio naturally made sense given the chemistry Leo Fernandes has with both LaCava and Seba. Lucky Mkosana could’ve easily swapped in for LaCava as well, but Lucky tends to prefer striker over the wings. Now did Collins make this move because of what I suggested we will never know unless someone asks him.
Do I need credit for the big change up front that went from LaCava, Dos Santos, and Fernandes to the new dynamic trio in USL absolutely not? I just love how it happened to fall in place and paid off big time for the club that had dropped 2 matches in a row with scoring woes and some questionable no-calls in the penalty box at key moments in the game. I’ve had the pleasure of covering Leo Fernandes from his rookie season in Philadelphia for their MLS squad and their 2nd team before he was loaned to the New York Cosmos where Leo’s career took off, and he hasn’t looked back. It’s also where he met Seba and Lucky, the trio tormented the NASL and turned heads in the USL Championship league and MLS. Jake LaCava, I met a few times during his stint with the NY Red Bulls of MLS where he struggled with the style of play to keep a role and was loaned out to Tampa who saw his potential.
The new trio wasted no time showing how dynamic they’re together just 30 seconds into the match, they pushed the Orange County back line deep into the box and a long ball from Antley just missed sending Seba in on goal by inches. It was a sign of what was to come tonight at Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies midfield was amped up for the match and it showed in their passing, they were just a bit off on all their passes to the front 3 and the midfield just needed to settle down the nerves because the passes made if on target would’ve created a number on 1 v 1’s with the Rowdies trio on Orange Counties Goalie. At the 2 min mark, Tampa Bay Rowdies #27 Laurence Wyke committed a bad foul 25 yards from goal. Rowdies clear the free kick was taken by Orange County # 8 Seth Casiple. At the 5 min mark, Leo Fernandes ran back to his own box to stop a scoring threat by Orange County, clearing the ball from danger. Orange County tried to triple team Leo but he found El Capitán Seba at midfield who was fouled immediately by #6 Michael Orozco. The free kick taken from 40 yards from the goal was played to LaCava but sails a little too far for him. Antley ran it down and crossed to Wyke top of the box, but he commits a foul after holding the ball too long killing a great chance at goal. At the 9:40 mark, Tampa’s Leo Fernandes takes a Corner kick and finds Seba wide open in front of the goal, header goes just wide, score stays 0-0. Wyke sent a missile of a pass into the box at the 11 min mark, but it was way too strong to handle and becomes an easy turnover for Orange County. Wyke needs to settle down out there. Tampa goes on a counterattack at 13 min mark with Seba finding LaCava with a beautiful backheel pass and the LaCava shot sends Orange County Goalie Patrick Rakovsky diving to make a phenomenal save. Leo Fernandes presses the Orange County defense in their own box, causing a turnover at the top of it. Antley finds the loose ball and feeds Leo Fernandes for a slide tackling goal into the far side upper 90 for a 1-0 lead and it’s the 1st lead Tampa’s has had in their last 3 matches. Leo scores at the 14:45 mark of the 1st half. The Rowdies tried to find Seba with a long ball into the box but it was just out of reach again. Seba needs just 2 goals to hit the 60-goal mark for Tampa and become Tampa’s All time goal scorer. If on target, Seba had just him and the keeper to beat. At the 18 min mark, LaCava has his goal taken back by the AR who happened to be wrong with the offside call so we still sit at 1-0 18 min into the 1st half. The new trio is looking dynamic tonight causing major problems for Orange County who have no answers in the 1st half for the trio. 21 min mark Tampa #7 Yann Ekra commits a professional foul to slow down an Orange County counter. The ball is defended well and the Trio comes marching down the field, Seba finds Leo who makes a nice through pass to LaCava but his shot goes just wide of goal at the 23:30-minute mark. LaCava is going to want that one back, he had a wide-open net to strike at 26 min mark, Tampa Manager Collins is showing his displeasure for the sloppy passing from his defenders in front of their own goal. A minute later Seba is called offside just miss timed the run by a millisecond. Leo Fernandes wins the ball off the free kick and finds Seba 30 yards away in on goal with just the keeper to beat and Seba will want that one back as he pushes it just wide of goal. Great pass by Fernandes to find Seba between both Orange County center backs. At the 28th min mark, we still sit at 1-0 Tampa who could easily be up 4-0 at this point. Now at the 31st min mark, Tampa Bay Rowdies #7 Ekra sends a missile at goal from 22 yards out that goes just wide of goal. At the 34 min mark, Tampa has had 6 scoring opportunities to Orange Counties 2. Tampa is buzzing around Orange Counties’ goal pretty much the entire 1st half so far and the new trio has brought new life to this Tampa team who are playing hard in the heat. The 38 min mark has Leo draws a yellow card on OC’s #22 Albi Skendi after causing Skendi to turn over the ball near the goal. Lewis Hilton of Tampa overhits the free kick beyond the goal so nothing comes of the foul. The 41st min has Antley miss strikes his shot on goal, an easy save. OC Keeper Patrick Rakovsky miss hits the punt and Leo Fernandes comes down with the ball and sends Seba in, Seba Scores!!! However, upon an official scoring review, the goal is given as an Own Goal to #31 Ian Hoffman who they say guided the ball into the net as they said it would’ve gone wide of the net if not for the defender’s last-ditch effort. Still, it’s 2-0 Tampa heading into halftime, to recap the 1st half Tampa came to play tonight and the new trio up front is causing major damage to the Orange County defense who have no answers for them. Orange County is lucky to leave the 1st half only down 2-0, it could easily be 6-0 at this point for Tampa.
The 2nd half is underway at Al Lang, Tampa dominated the 1st half but only has a 2-0 lead for it. Will we see more of the same play from Tampa, or will Collins hold back and play more defensively? Orange County makes a few changes, #15 Kevin Partida comes on for #8 Seth Casiple, and #19 Sean “Ugo” Okoli comes on for #9 Erick “Cubo” Torres. At the 50th min mark, not much going on for either side, but Orange County is trying to press Tampa. The 52 min mark has Orange County catch the Tampa defense sleeping and Rowdies Keeper C.J. Cochran has to make an amazing save to keep the score 2-0. The Rowdies midfield and defense are playing way too relaxed and committing passing errors all over the pitch again with the new OC pressure being applied. Tampa makes a sub at the 54 min mark, bringing, in #21 Dayonn Harris on for #23 Sebastian Dalgaard, Dalgaard didn’t have the greatest night out there. Harris should help break up Orange Counties new up-tempo play in the 2nd half. In the 56th min, Tampa goalie C.J. Cochran makes a horrible pass that rolls to Orange County forward Okoli who is fouled by Tampa Bay #7 Yanna Ekra who gets his 2nd yellow card, is shown a red card, and is sent off. A huge costly error by C.J., 18 yards from the goal. Tampa is down to 10 men for the remainder of the match because of this. Orange County #10 Brian Iloski converts the free kick making it 2-1, Tampa now with plenty of time to play at the 57th-minute mark. Leo causes another turnover and finds LaCava who couldn’t do anything with the pass. At the 60-minute mark, Leo falls back into Midfield to help settle things down for the Rowdies. Skendi heads one wide for Orange County on a corner kick. The Rowdies defense needs to wake up fast as Orange County has come to play hard this 2nd half. In the 62nd minute, C.J. with another brilliant save to keep Tampa ahead 2-1. The next minute Antley finds Seba whose shot is blocked out for a corner kick. Tampa makes a sub, in #5 Scarlett for #13 Seba Guenzatti, the sub is confusing as Scarlett isn’t known for his goal-scoring ability and has been a liability on defense drawing cards from the referees this season. Scarlett is a solid defender who is watched like a hawk by the referees of Pro. Let’s hope he stays off the radar tonight with Tampa down to 10 men already. Two minutes later Laurence Wykes intense play style finally gets the better of him and he is issued his first yellow card tonight. Wykes was hit in the face by his opponent who goes unpunished, and Tampa’s players aren’t happy. Orange County players go after Wyke trying to claim he is faking the injury. All 3 officials run onto the field and stand over Wyke along with Tampa’s players. One must wonder why the referee issued no card for the dangerous play by Orange County and them storming a downed player on the pitch. Trainers come on to evaluate Wyke for a Concussion and now the referee is barking at Wyke and the Tampa Trainers, which is a clear violation of the Concussion laws passed that state no player deemed to be potential suffering a concussion shall be moved until cleared of immediate danger by medical staff. The 70th min has Wyke back to his feet and walks off with the medical team still being evaluated. Rowdies are down to 9 men on the pitch. Orange County is unable to take advantage of the 2-man advantage as Wyke is waived back on at the 72min mark. An Orange County forward uses his hand to control a cross into the box and the referee claims no foul and let’s play continue, Tampa clears the ball and continues to protest the no-call, Collins is not happy on the sideline ripping the 4th official to shreds. Leo Fernandes is now pressing the OCSC forwards and midfield making life miserable for them again. It’s helping slow things down, letting the Tampa midfield and defense reset. The stadium is noticeably quiet after being loud all game. Fans can be heard still going at the CR Matthew Thompson for his call-making decisions in the 2nd half. The 75th min has a brutal elbow to the face by OCSC #6 Michaelk Orozco who is on a yellow already to #4 Lewis Hilton of Tampa and Collins and the Rowdies are furious no card is shown and VAR isn’t being used for this match for some reason. There is no question Orozco should’ve been sent to the showers for that foul. Tampa takes the free kick and sends the ball toward the goal and OCSC clears it. Now at midfield, #19 Sean Okoli fouls Tampa Castellanos, as Castellanos goes to stand up Okoli attempts to head-butt him and the referee again makes no call for the actions of OCSC’s players. In the 76th minute, LaCava breaks free and heads to the goal but Referee Matthew Thompson blows his whistle with no explanation stopping the attack. AR flag was down, and no way Thompson could make the call by himself in his position. Orange County turns over the free kick, but the forwards for Rowdies are looking gassed and unable to make anything of the turnover. LaCava shoots wide at the 77th min mark of the game. Orange County goes at goal and a big save by C.J. after Scarlett missed an easy ball for clearance in his box. Corner Kick Orange County, cleared by Leo Fernandes to safety. Tampa has pulled everyone back; they have no forwards upfront right now. Orange County is now starting a shooting gallery at the 80th min, an offside call saves Tampa. LaCava returns the favor to Orange County on the next play, he wasn’t off by much. Next #19 LaCava coming off for #6 Brunallergene Etou. Scarlett since coming on for Seba hasn’t looked comfortable with the ball at his feet tonight, hopefully, he rebounds fast before it costs Tampa 3 points. The referee awards another FK to Orange County from 40 yards out and the call is a head-scratcher at best, Collins is not a happy camper right now. Now Orange County makes a sub, #17 Ivan Gutierrez comes on for #3 Alex Villanueva who’s on a yellow and pushing hard for a red. OCSC takes the free kick and Leo goes up and clears the ball, saving a sure goal. OCSC commits a foul in the box away from the ball, Tampa’s ball with 7 minutes plus extra time remaining. Etou since coming on, like Scarlett hasn’t looked sharp tonight. OCSC has maintained the pressure but hasn’t had any real quality since they took #10 Brian Iloski off in favor of #26 Kyle Scott who has done nothing to threaten Tampa. OCSC’s best chances have come off errors by Scarlett so far in the 18–25-yard range. Harris called for offside again his 3rd offside call this match since entering. Now in the 87th min, Leo runs into the box to catch Antley’s man who escaped wide open in front of the goal and causes the shot to go wide hitting outside of the goal net. Tampa takes the goal kick and pushes up the field, Leo makes a run down the left wing and earns a throw-in. The ball is thrown back into Leo who pushes forward but Harris for the 4th time in the 2nd half runs offside and prevents Tampa from running out the clock. The game is now in the 88th min, the last shot by the Rowdies was registered with two minutes left in the opening stanza when Seba found the back of the net, on what was ruled an Own Goal. An 89th min save by Rowdies goalie C.J. and referee Matt Thompson comes running in from midfield to give C.J. a tongue lashing immediately after he makes the save and then issues him a yellow card for time wasting which is puzzling the guy barely had the save made for even a second before the ref issued the caution. During the 90th min C.J. finds Leo with the punt, Leo goes straight at the OCSC defense full speed, Harris was making sure to trail the play rather than pushing too far forward. Leo sent a great low cross to Harris who SCORES! 3-1 Tampa Bay after a gutsy run by team MVP Leo Fernandes who is a top contender for the USL Championship League MVP, and honestly should take the honor. Leo showed why he is loved here in Tampa and feared by defenders around the league this season. With the 91st min OCSC sails one into the bleachers, Tampa counters and finds Leo in the box who heads one to Harris, but he turns it over. Etou steps up on the defender and rifles the ball to Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. During the 93rd min, OCS goes offside. They take a shot in the 95th min saved by C.J., Tampa goalie just boots the ball high and deep upfield. The referee keeps the play going OCSC can’t do a thing and sails the ball in on goal and C.J. makes the save. He then sends the ball high and to no man’s land. #7 Milian Iloski appears to have injured himself trying to run into C.J.’s punt. Game Over.
Leo Fernandes was awarded the Man of The Match with 1 goal and 1 assist officially, he continues to put the league on notice as to why he is the league MVP this season. The win keeps Tampa Bay in the playoff hunt and within striking distance of both Memphis and Louisville with a game at hand on both teams. Tampa had an amazing 1st half with their trio of forwards. Not sure what happened at halftime but I’m sure Collins will correct whatever it was. Maybe he wanted to go defensive, or maybe the heat and humidity caught up to the Rowdies in 2nd half who knows? One thing we do know is that Leo Fernandes will run through walls to secure 3 points even if his team is down players on the pitch. He has captain material written all over him when Seba does decide to retire. I’m sure MLS is keeping a close eye on him as well, especially both teams in his hometown of NY who desperately need a goal scorer and playmaker. Red Bull could have an inside track as their man Jake LaCava, a fellow Brazilian has come alive since playing with Leo Fernandes in Tampa Bay. The 2 have a magical connection that has helped both players tremendously this season. LaCava, Seba, and Fernandes seem to be a solid trio at forward to make the playoff push and possibly conference champs run. Tampa will play Las Vegas next and a win with some help could clinch a playoff spot for Tampa Bay.