Courtesy of Matt May Photography
Louisville City FC, seconds away from exacting some Eastern Conference Final revenge Saturday night, instead fell to the Tampa Bay Rowdies for a second straight season in the USL Championship’s national semifinal round.
Super sub Lucky Mkosana’s header six minutes into second half stoppage time equalized, and the Rowdies went on to win by a 3-2 score in extra time at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“It’s difficult to lose that way, obviously,” said coach Danny Cruz. “I’m thankful to all of our fans that made the trip down. Sorry the game ended the way that it did. I’m extremely thankful to this group of players and everything they’ve given me this year. Obviously to lose the way we did, it’s going to hurt for a long time. There’s no doubt about it.”
It was a heartbreaking end to an otherwise successful season for LouCity, which raced out to a 2-0 halftime lead. Brian Ownby tapped in a 10th-minute Oscar Jimenez free kick, and Paolo DelPiccolo’s 24th-minute cross in from the left wing led to a Tampa Bay own goal to double the advantage.
From there, however, the visitors played on the back foot of a game in which they were out-shot 25-10 and out-possessed 57.3%-42.7%.
“It was great to get two goals in there, but I think we decided to let them have the ball too much at the end of the first half,” said defender Oscar Jimenez. “And then the whole second half, I thought we just stayed back and let them get comfortable having the ball. That’s really dangerous when you play a good team.”
Mkosana netted his first goal seconds after coming on, maximizing on a half clearance by the LouCity defense in the 83rd minute. Similarly, the boys in purple couldn’t thwart an extended Tampa Bay attack deep into stoppage time that led to an Mkosana header pulling Rowdies level.
Steevan Dos Santos delivered the game winner 102 minutes into a contest that sent Tampa Bay on to the Sunday, Nov. 28, USL Championship Final.
“We were defending well for a long time,” Jimenez said. “They had the ball. They had chances. But we were defending well. Sometimes it takes just one or two moments, and they capitalize. We weren’t tuned in on the back post — stuff like that.
“It’s football, man. It’s a final. It’s a tough one.”
That made a bitter end for City, in the midst of a seventh straight Eastern Conference Final bid in as many seasons. The Rowdies last year registered a 2-1 victory at this same stage of the season at Lynn Family Stadium.
The boys in purple had multiple chances to force penalties with Jimenez skimming one late shot over the bar before Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro stopped another.
So finished a season in which LouCity won the USL Championship’s Central Division, earning a top playoff seed on the campaign’s final weekend. The boys in purple prevailed by 1-0 scores in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal (Miami FC) and Semifinal (Charlotte Independence) rounds.
It will, however, be until at least 2022 that the club can look to add a much-desired third star over the crest following USL Championship titles in 2017 and 2018.
“I hope the players remember every single moment from shoveling snow in early (February) to now,” Cruz said. “We’ve been through a lot together, and when it ends this way, you certainly feel like it’s a gut punch. My hope is that we’ll remember this moment going into next year and certainly try to do a better job of closing out games and getting back to lifting trophies as this club deserves.”
Game Summary: Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Louisville City FC
Venue: Al Lang Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Man of the Match: Chris Hubbard
Louisville City FC: 10’ Brian Ownby (Oscar Jimenez)
Louisville City FC: 24’ Own Goal
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 85’ Lucky Mkosana
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 90’+ Lucky Mkosana (Forrest Lasso)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 102’ Steevan Dos Santos (Laurence Wyke)
Stats Summary: Tampa Bay Rowdies / Louisville City FC
Shots: 25 / 10
Shots on Goal: 10 / 4
Possession: 57.3% / 42.7%
Fouls: 14 / 14
Offside: 3 / 1
Corner Kicks: 16 / 7
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 1 — Evan Louro, 3 — Forrest Lasso, 22 — Jordan Doherty (62’ 21 — Dayonn Harris), 33 — Aaron Guillen, 11 — Leo Fernandes, 23 — Sebastian Dalgaard (81' 77 — Lucky Mkosana), 27 — Laurence Wyke, 4 — Lewis Hilton, 9 — Juan Tejada (46’ 10 — Steevan Dos Santos), 13 — Sebastian Guenzatti, 7 — Yann Ekra
Subs not used: 16 — Max Lachowecki, 56 — Raiko Arozarena, 8 — Zach Steinberger, 17 — Jordan Adebayo-Smith
Head Coach: Neill Collins
Louisville City FC: 1 – Chris Hubbard, 42 – Jonathan Gomez (88’ 15 — Pat McMahon), 4 – Sean Totsch, 6 – Wes Charpie, 19 – Oscar Jimenez, 11 – Niall McCabe, 13 – Corben Bone (75’ 3 — Alexis Souahy), 36 – Paolo DelPiccolo (70’ 12 — Tyler Gibson), 10 – Brian Ownby (75’ 7 — Napo Matsoso), 9 – Jorge Gonzalez (104’ 29 — Antoine Hoppenot), 17 – Cameron Lancaster (75’ 21 — Kyle Greig)
Subs not used: 24 – Parker Siegfried
Head Coach: Danny Cruz
Louisville City FC: 5’ Brian Ownby (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 43’ Juan Tejada (yellow)
Louisville City FC: 55’ Jonathan Gomez (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 77’ Steevan Dos Santos (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 83’ Laurence Wyke (yellow)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: 97’ Aaron Guillen (yellow)
Louisville City FC: 100’ Oscar Jimenez (yellow)
Referee: Lukasz Szpala