Tampa Bay Sports Day

USL: Rowdies Beat Ottawa 1-0 to Extend Winning Streak to Three

It wasn’t as flashy a performance as previous weeks, but the Tampa Bay Rowdies kept their perfect start to the 2017 season intact with an edgy 1-0 win over the Ottawa Fury FC at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night.

Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov provided the game’s only goal in the 47th minute, heading a ball past Fury FC goalkeeper Callum Irving and lifting the Rowdies to their third win in three matches.

Tampa Bay remains atop the Eastern Conference Standings, now two points ahead of its next opponent, Louisville City FC.

“You can build momentum and confidence from this type of start,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said.

“Tonight was a tough game physically. They put us under a lot of pressure physically with a lot of long balls, but we defended absolutely fantastically again. I was really happy for the whole team to get a clean sheet again.”

Hristov’s goal came from a Luke Boden cross which was deflected by an Ottawa defender, but not enough to prevent it from reaching Hristov at the near post.

Hristov has now scored three goals this season, one in each match, to lead the team.

“I think we played really good tonight because it was a very, very tough game,” Hristov said. “The way they played, it’s very to play against. I don’t think they were really looking for a win. It was a good test for us because it was hard to break through them because they were very tight with no space. Even though it didn’t look like one of our best games, I personally think it was our best game so far.”

Campbell made one personnel change to his starting lineup from the previous week, with Deshorn Brown entering in place on injured Leo Fernandes. Brown played as the central striker with Hristov moving to the left wing spot vacated by Fernandes.

The first half was as sluggish a 45 minutes as Tampa Bay has played this season, with Ottawa (0-0-2, 0 points) content to put all 11 players behind the ball when the Rowdies had it and choke out all available space.

When Ottawa had the ball in the first half, winger Sito Seoane looked threating, firing shots on Rowdies goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald from outside the box in the 24th and 44th minutes.

Fitzgerald kept his third clean sheet of the season, making three saves on the night. Fitzgerald had only been asked to make two saves in the first two weeks combined.

“It was a great result again with another clean sheet,” Fitzgerald said. “The chances (Ottawa had) were from distance, things I’m expected to do well with. I’m glad I was able to help the guys out. The guys in front of me battled really hard. We knew it was going to be a tough game.”

Brown had the Rowdies’ only great chance of the first half in the 10th minute, glancing a first-time shot off the goalpost and out of play.

Whatever Campbell said to the team in the locker room at halftime seemed to have worked, as it took just two minutes for the Rowdies to assert themselves and take a lead.

Tampa Bay (3-0-0, 9 points) could’ve doubled its advantage in the 51st minute when Michael Nanchoff beat his defender and was chopped down just outside the box, but the Rowdies didn’t convert the free kick into a goal.

Ottawa had a chance to level the match in the 61st minute as Tucker Hume, who had just entered the match two minutes earlier, found space for a clean header, but guided it over the crossbar.

In the 74th minute, with Ottawa on the front foot and beginning to build some attacking momentum, a Fury FC movement down the left wing lead to a low cross that ran dangerously through Tampa Bay’s 6-yard box, but no one was there to nudge it home for Ottawa and the Rowdies escaped.

It wasn’t as clinical of a performance as the Rowdies have put on in their first two matches, but the stats still show a strong night. Tampa Bay had 69.5 percent possession and out-passes Ottawa 625 to 263. Ottawa took one more shot (11 to 10), but each team only managed to get three shots on target.

Up next, the Rowdies hit the road for the first time in the USL regular season, visiting Louisville City FC next Saturday and then FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, April 19. The Rowdies return home to host the Charleston Battery on Saturday, April 22 in their next home game.