There was an uneasy air of familiarity through 60 scoreless minutes of the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ matchup against Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday night. The Canadian side has proven to be a tough nut to crack for the Rowdies over the years. In 12 previous meetings with Ottawa, the Rowdies settled for seven draws.

Saturday’s match at Al Lang was starting to feel like it could be number eight until the final 30 minutes, as the Rowdies torched the visitors for five goals and locked up their third win of the year. The 5-0 result is the largest margin of victory for the Rowdies in the modern era and is also the first time the club has recorded more than four goals in a match since 2013.

“We sort of anticipated (a second half like that),” Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We spoke about it in the preparation leading up to the game that the key word was going to be ‘patience.’ We knew how well organized Ottawa were and they we couldn’t really force it. … In the second half, we were very, very clinical.”

The Rowdies had their opportunities in the first half only to see their usual frustrations against Ottawa crop up. Junior Flemmings had a promising break into the box but wasn’t quick enough on the draw and was thwarted by a nice defensive tackle before he could shoot. Georgi Hristov then had a chance in the 22nd minute aching to be put in the back of the net when keeper Callum Irving’s botched clearance fell right to his feet at the top of the box. Not realizing he had time to compose himself, Hristov tried a volley that bounced tamely back to Irving in goal.

Tampa Bay stayed persistent, though, and finally found their go-ahead goal off the head of Hristov. After bombarding defenses with crosses through the first few weeks of the season, Marcel Schafer finally hit the mark with his service in the 60th minute. The German whipped a cross in from the left flank that Hristov deftly redirected into the top left corner.

Finding a second goal against Ottawa has been a tough task for the Rowdies in the past. This was not the case this time.

The rout was on in the 71st minute. Leo Fernandes looked to pass across goal to Hristov for tap in but instead benefited from a deflection by defender Chris Mannella that sent the ball into the back of the net.

Tony Taylor gave Ottawa a glimmer of hope with a long-range effort that clipped the outside of the post in the 76th minute, but that was the last look at goal for the visitors. Fernandes was at it again three minutes later, shaking off a couple defenders on the endline before rifling a shot toward the near post that was too much for Irving to handle. Fernandes was credited with both goals, bringing his season total to four.

“Usually when you’re on the endline, they expect you to cross it,” Fernandes said. “I put in a couple crosses earlier, so I tried to fake him out and shoot it right away and it went in. … Coach (Campbell) says to be patient because that’s how it’s going to be this season. We should have most of the possession and when we have our chances, we have to finish them.”

Not be outdone, Joe Cole got on the scoresheet for the first time this year with an opportunistic blast. Right back David Najem initiated the fourth goal in the 87th minute as his shot was blocked up into the center of the box, where Jochen Graf and Jack Blake knocked it around before laying it off for Cole to bury into the bottom left corner.

Ottawa was put at a further disadvantage as Onua Obasi lost his cool and stomped on Sebastian Guenzatti as he lay on the ground in the 90th minute. Obasi earned a straight red card for the infraction.

Left back Zac Portillos took advantage of Tampa Bay’s momentum to grab his first professional goal shortly before the final whistle. Fernandes delivered a perfect cross to the center of the box and Portillos nestled the ball into the net with a fantastic header.

The Rowdies finish the weekend holding the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, tied with Louisville City on points but ahead on goal differential thanks to Saturday’s win. Next week they travel to face New York Red Bulls II on Saturday afternoon at Red Bull Arena.

Photo by Patrick Patterson/Unused Substitutes

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