Thugs strangle Oakland, sit on top of Eastern Conference

ST. PETERSBURG – As complete as they are impressive, the Tampa Bay Rowdies posted a dominant performance on Friday at Al Lang Stadium, beating the Oakland Roots 3-0 to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Oakland (5-9-5) had a six-game unbeaten streak that included three straight 3-1 wins, but an announced crowd of 3,514 saw the Rowdies take control and keep it. Tampa Bay (14-6-1, 43 points) got first-half goals from Sebastian Guenzatti and Sebastian Dalgaard, and Lucky Mkosana’s first of the season in the dying minutes.

Tampa Bay now has its own six-game unbeaten streak. And with Louisville (40 points) upset at home by Tulsa on Friday, the Rowdies are atop the conference table. Pittsburgh also has 43 points, but the Rowdies have played two games less.

“This is the team with the best form in the league behind us,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins of Oakland. “The second half, we were maybe looking for a little more, being greedy, we could have controlled the game a little better. But we didn’t really lose any opportunities, except for the last two minutes. Lots of positives. “

The Rowdies dominated Oakland 20-4. While Dalgaard’s strike, a 30-yard missile in the upper left corner, will rightly attract attention, it was important for Guenzatti to win his 10th of the season. The captain had not scored since July 24 at Loudoun.

He arrived on time and started off with Lewis Hilton’s corner kick which almost resulted in an own own goal. Although Oakland goalkeeper Taylor Bailey did well to keep the ball on the outside, Jordan Scarlett was able to send it through the mouth of the goal where Steevan Dos Santos was ready to pounce. But Guenzatti cleverly guided the ball with the back of his left leg.

Guenzatti was broken into in the 13th minute and Hilton was given a dangerous free kick by Bailey in the 24th.

Dalgaard doubled the lead in the 41st minute with his incredible shot.

“I did it in training, but I haven’t really been able to connect in the games. I got closer several times, ”said Dalgaard. “Hitting him like I did, you feel good when he lets go of your boot, ‘Yes, this one has a chance.’ He feels good. “

Dos Santos scored with a huge scissor kick, but it was canceled by a late offside midway through the second half. Collins made no substitutions until 67 minutes had elapsed; by that time, a searching Oakland team had traded four starters.

Mkosana added up the lead on a solo effort in the 82nd minute, dribbling into the box and going with his weaker (left) foot to score. Evan Louro kept the shutout with a nice save plunging by one header in the 88th.

The Rowdies also got to see midfielder Leo Fernandes come back from a month-long injury absence and almost get an assist as his cross was led by Guenzatti but well saved.

Tampa Bay can’t enjoy this one for too long as he has to hit the road to play Charleston on Tuesday. The Rowdies are back home next Saturday before heading off on a three-game season road trip.

“Big win tonight. It sets us up well for the week ahead, ”said Collins.

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