The calendar may have turned to August, but the surging Rowdies kept up their strong July form with a 3-0 thrashing of the Harrisburg City Islanders at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay closed July on a four-match unbeaten run and extended it to five with a strong performance. Neill Collins, Martin Paterson and Walter Restrepo all scored for the Rowdies as they posted their third-consecutive victory. Marcel Schäfer had two assists and Matt Pickens kept his seventh clean sheet of the year on the night he celebrated his 100th match for the Rowdies.
The win moved the Rowdies (10-7-5 (W-T-L), 37 points) into a tie with the Charleston Battery for second place in the USL’s Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay trails the Charlotte Independence by two points at the top of the table.
“It was a fantastic performance by the whole team,” Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell said. “I thought everyone was great tonight, I’ve got to be honest. It was a very, very solid team performance.”
The Rowdies have been dominant at Al Lang this season, coming into the match with eight wins and only one loss in 11 home games so far this season. Feeding off the home mojo, the Rowdies jumped to an early lead despite losing captain Joe Cole to a back injury in the seventh play of play.
Cole’s replacement, Michael Nanchoff, took a corner kick in the 15th minute that eventually found its way to Collins at the back post. Collins blasted a shot into the roof of the net for his second goal of the season and a 1-0 Rowdies lead.
“(Scoring a goal with my feet) has been a long time coming,” Collins said. “I’ve scored a lot of goals in my career with my head. … It’s not the closest I’ve ever scored from, but it was close. I couldn’t miss and it was a good start to the game for us.”
The remainder of the first half was played in the City Islanders’ end — Tampa Bay had eight corner kicks in the first half — but Harrisburg (6-6-10, 24 points) did well to keep the score at 1-0 heading into the break.
In the second half, the City Islanders got onto the front foot for long spells of possession, but the Rowdies’ defense was simply too strong.
Pickens needed to make just two saves to post his third-straight clean sheet.
The Rowdies doubled their advantage and really started clicking into high gear in the 73rd minute, when Marcel Schäfer delivered a high, looping cross onto the forehead of Martin Paterson at the penalty spot to beat Harrisburg’s Brandon Miller and score his sixth goal of the season.
Tampa Bay kept on the front foot for the rest of the match and Schäfer notched another assist in the 90th minute, feeding Walter Restrepo on a counter attack. Restrepo chipped Miller for his first goal since joining the Rowdies on July 20.
Up next, the Rowdies hit the road next weekend to visit Saint Louis FC on Sunday night before returning home to host the Ottawa Fury FC at Al Lang Stadium on August 19.