Alex Morrell scored a brace and Matt Pickens recorded his second clean sheet in as many games as the Tampa Bay Rowdies rolled to a 2-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night.
Playing the second leg of a key three-match homestand, the Rowdies (9-7-5 (W-T-L), 34 points) used a similar formula to the one that helped Tampa Bay down Charleston last weekend.
“Obviously we spoke about how well we’ve done defensively,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “The way we’re playing at the minute, we’re creating chances and its just up to us to convert them or not.”
Just as they did a week ago, the Rowdies struck first. Lakeland native Morrell gave the Rowdies the lead in the 11th minute when he pounced on a loose ball that Pittsburgh goalkeeper Trey Mitchell failed to control.
“This one’s going to build his confidence even more,” Campbell said. “He’s gotten better and better game by game.”
Tampa Bay remained in control of the match following the goal, nearly doubling their lead in the 35th minute. Morrell sent a cross into the box that Neill Collins headed just wide of the right post.
The second half remained much of the same, with Tampa Bay comfortably dictating the match.
Morrell gave the Rowdies some insurance in the 76th minute, volleying home a cross from Marcel Schäfer.
It was a sequence that Morrell had been preparing for during training leading up to Saturday night’s match.
“I’ve been working on that all week in practice,” Morrell said. “I got like 10 or 15 balls every other day just working on that back post volley. I knew as soon as I saw that it went over (the defender’s) head that I was going to volley it.”
Defensively the Rowdies stood tall against the attack from Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds (5-8-8, 23 points) peppered Pickens with 5 shots on net and outshot the Rowdies 14-13 but failed to create any dangerous chances.
“Honestly we played the best I think we have all season,” Morrell said. “It was a really good team performance. Credit to all the guys out there, it was one of the best games of the season.”
The goals were Morrell’s first in USL competition this season. His only previous goal was in the Rowdies’ 3-0 win over Jacksonville Armada FC U23 in U.S. Open Cup play.
With the clean sheet in the books, his sixth of the season, Pickens has not allowed a goal at home since June 10, a run of 355 scoreless minutes at Al Lang Stadium.
The Rowdies are beginning to peak at the right time as well. With Saturday’s victory, Tampa Bay has now gone four games unbeaten, having outscored opponents 7-1 in that stretch.
Tampa Bay will look to make it three-for-three on this homestand next Saturday night against the Harrisburg City Islanders.