The Tampa Bay Rowdies dropped their second straight match Friday night, falling 3-0 to Penn FC in another punchless effort away from home. Outside of the season opener in North Carolina, the Rowdies have been on the losing end of all of their road matches this year.
After a somewhat encouraging stretch of pressure in the home side’s offensive end to start the match, the Rowdies’ defensive marking on crosses into the box let them down for the first of what would be several times. As the 10th minute came to a close, Jerry Ortiz lofted a free kick from far out on the left wing to the far post where Kyle Venter was lurking. Venter held up his run to lose his mark Hunter Gorskie and bang a header back across goal to beat Cody Mizell.
Penn used Venter’s early goal to turn the tide back into its favor and maintained that momentum throughout the rest of the night.
Former Rowdies forward Tommy Heinemann flirted with doubling Penn’s lead at the half hour mark when the assistant referee failed to catch the attacker offside on a breakaway. Heinemann was too casual as he entered the box to face Mizell in a one-v-one, though, and Gorskie recovered with a spectacular sliding challenge before Heinemann got his shot off.
Tampa Bay could only keep Heinemann for so long. Penn utilized a quick throw in after a substitution in the 57th minute to catch the Rowdies back line napping and grab a second goal. Frederick Opoku delivered a perfect cross from the right wing to the center of the box, where Heinemann waited after slipping Gorskie’s lackadaisical coverage.
Heinemann then burned the Rowdies again three minutes later, this time nodding home a deft delivery from Pedro Galvao when left back Zac Portillos lost the forward on the back post.
“We gave up three shocking goals,” said Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell. “We did not mark the opposition well in the box and it showed with today’s loss. I am looking for our players to step it up next week and stand up for what this club stands for.”
Campbell promptly swapped out Jack Blake and Sebastian Guenzatti for Joe Cole and Leo Fernandes right after Heinemann put the Rowdies in a three-goal deficit. Those changes, as well as the insertion of forward Jochen Graf in the 78th minute, did not yield the results Campbell was hoping for. While the Rowdies did control the ball more and ramp up pressure on Penn, they still failed to test Romuald Peiser and finished the night without a shot on net.
Even as Penn was forced to play the final 10 minutes down a man when substitute Mauro Eustaquio was eliminated by an injury after the team had already used all three substitutions, the Rowdies still could not buy a shot on goal. Penn’s defense deserves credit for staying organized and clogging the box. Penn managed to block 8 of the 16 shots taken by Tampa Bay, which helped give Peiser such a comfortable night in net.
Penn appeared prepared to handle Tampa Bay’s reliance on crosses into the box, particularly from the left wing. The Rowdies attempted 38 total crosses in the match, but couldn’t convert any into a shot on goal. When a few of those deliveries did find an open man in front of goal, the finish was lacking.
“They put the match away in three minutes,” Campbell said. “We had countless opportunities but didn’t hit the target once. They capitalized on every chance they had. It’s unacceptable.”
The Rowdies close out their three-match road swing next Saturday with a matchup against the Richmond Kickers. They remain fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, though that is likely to change as the rest of the conference resumes action this weekend. Another road loss next week would place the Rowdies on unsure footing in the standings as the season reaches the two-month mark.