By JAKE NUTTING
A quick start and a steady 90-minute shift helped the Tampa Bay Rowdies record a 3-0 win over Jacksonville Armada U23 in their first match of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night. The scoreline is identical to the one the Rowdies notched against the same NPSL team back when they squared off in the 2012 Open Cup.
“It was a really professional performance by the team. We went out and got the job done to win the game and get to the next round,” said Rowdies Coach Stuart Campbell
Campbell rotated much of his lineup for Jacksonville as the Rowdies face a busy schedule in the next two weeks. Joe Cole was left out of the gameday roster entirely, though leading scorer Georgi Hristov did play the first half. Veterans Tamika Mkandawire and Keith Savage both made the starting lineup to earn their first appearances of the year. The appearance was Savage’s 120th, placing him in a tie with former defender Takuya Yamada for second most appearances in the modern era.
“They’ve been great day in and day in training,” said Campbell. “They give me a hundred percent every single game and there’s not been one moan, one groan from them. It’s really difficult for a coach when the group is as good as what they are. It’s tough for me not to play everybody, but it’s great I had the opportunity to give guys who really deserve the opportunity to start. I though they were brilliant. They just showed what great professionals they are.”
Right back Kyle Porter helped the Rowdies start the match off on the right foot by forcing keeper Juan Fajardo into a tough spot in the fourth minute. Noticing Fajardo was off his line, Porter launched an arching effort on target from about 40 yards out on the left endline. Fajardo recovered to push the shot down in front of the goal line, but his momentum carried him far inside the goal and the backspin on the bounce carried it just over the line, according to the assistant referee.
Tampa Bay continued to assert its dominance over the amateur side throughout the first 45. Midfielder Michael Nanchoff looked to best Fajardo with a powerful, low strike from outside the box, but the keeper got down to push the ball out for a corner.
As the break neared, winger Alex Morrell hustled to double the lead with an outstanding individual effort. Morrell streaked in to strip an unsuspecting defender inside Jacksonville’s defensive third and then raced inside the box. A defender attempted to disrupt Morrell with a pull to his left shoulder, but he stayed up and finished off the sequence with a chip past his old teammate at the University of North Florida.
“Luckily the guy hit a bad pass,” said Morrell. “I picked it off, and made the most of it. I scored against my old keeper at college, so that was nice. He’s a really good keeper, unfortunately I had to put it past him. It was good, my first goal with the Rowdies.”
Jacksonville’s chance at mounting a comeback in the second half was greatly diminished in the 62nd minute as Dener Dos Santos received a straight red card for a blatant shove to the face of Morrell in front of the Rowdies’ bench.
Six minutes after Dos Santos’ exit, forward Martin Paterson capitalized with his second goal for the Rowdies this year. Left unchecked out on the right flank, Darwin Jones fired a cross that Paterson latched onto in front of the goal to extend the lead.
Paterson could’ve grabbed a second just a minute later, but he was denied by the near post as he chested a forceful pass into the box toward goal. Fajardo stood his ground to deny Tampa Bay’s last scoring threat of the night in the 81st. Jones hit a shot from inside the box with all he could muster toward the near post that bounced off the chest of Fajrdo and back into play.
Tampa Bay’s next opponent in the next round of the Open Cup on Wednesday night when the NASL’s Miami FC and the PDL’s South Florida Surf meet. If the Surf advances, the Rowdies will host the match on May 31. Should Miami move on, they would host the Rowdies on the same night.
In the immediate future, the Rowdies return to USL action with a Friday match on the road against Toronto FC II.
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