If you want to join them, well, first you beat them.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies, who have announced their plans to pursue admission into the MLS, took a symbolic step toward their goal Saturday night when they beat the Montreal Impact. The Impact was the Eastern Conference runners-up last season.
However, the Rowdies dominated play most of the evening, taking a 2-0 lead en route to their victory. Joe Cole and Deshorn Brown, a training guest, scored the goals within six minutes of one another late in the first half. Montreal’s only goal came from the penalty spot in the 71st minute.
“It’s nice to get a win, even though in preseason, the result isn’t the most important thing,” coach Stuart Campbell said. “It’s about the performance, the amount of work and improving the players’ fitness. You could see how hard the players worked tonight. For many of them, it was their first 90 minutes of the preseason.”
The Rowdies finished the Suncoast Invitation with a 1-1 record. The loss came to Philadelphia, which scored a late goal after Tampa Bay had substituted liberally.
“The movement that Montreal has and the attacking quality they use, they’re a very good team,” Campbell said. “We limited them to very few chances. I can’t remember many clear-cut chances they had. That’s one of the best teams in MLS. If you finish above Montreal, you’re not going to be far from winning the championship.”
After a back-and-forth first half that showed flashes of quality but with chances lacking, the Rowdies opened the scoring in the 34th minute with a quickly-taken free kick.
Rowdies winger Leo Fernandes drew a foul just outside the 18-yard box, and, before Montreal could set up defensively, the Rowdies took the free kick with Brown feeding Cole wide of the 6-yard box.
Cole’s shot on goal was deflected past Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush by Laurent Ciman and Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute.
Just six minutes later, Cole nearly scored his second of the match, but Bush made a big save. Brown pounced on the rebound and smashed it with his left foot to double Tampa Bay’s lead before halftime.
Despite the normal second-half substitutions that come standard in preseason matches, the Rowdies maintained control of the match save for Piatti’s penalty in the 71st minute, sealing a positive result.
“We wanted to go out and get a result, but really we wanted to put on a good performance,” Campbell said. “It’s fantastic to go out there and beat an MLS team that had a very good year last year and will no doubt have another very good year this year.”
Tampa Bay is back in action next week when it travels to Tampa to take on the University of Tampa Spartans on Saturday, March 4.
The Rowdies open their inaugural USL season March 25 against Orlando City B at Al Lang Stadium.