Match Recap – Tampa Bay Rowdies vs Louisville City – 11/20/2021 – 2021 Playoffs
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Seven years of existence and seven straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals. While the success never gets old, simply making it to the ECF isn’t the main objective. It is the one match that stands between the club and a shot at a third star. It would be a tall order in 2021. The Tampa Bay Rowdies are quite the formidable opponent and managed to stop City short in 2020. Was this set to be the year for revenge, or would LouCity have a long trip back home from Tampa?
Louisville City Lineup
At this point, we know who our best eleven are and they are the ones starting. Same as the past two playoff matches in the same 4-3-3.
Without wasting any time, both squads started the match at an intense pace, both trying to exert their influence over the match. Unfortunately, for Louisville City, the physical play of Brian Ownby earned him an early yellow card only 5’ in. Like in the previous match, early cards can, and ultimately did, have lasting implications for the player and the team in the game. Ownby, however, quickly redeemed himself. At 10’, a set-piece kick flew into the box where an unmarked Ownby tapped it in at the far post. An early lead for the visitors!
Tampa, desperate to recover from the early deficit, turned up the intensity. Around 13’, their heavy pressure got them around and on the edge of LouCity’s box, but City’s defense remained composed and prevented any quality shooting opportunities. For the subsequent 10 minutes, Louisville controlled the action, playing pressing the backline high and carefully maintaining possession. A gift was given to Morados at 23’ when a dangerous cross from Paolo DelPiccolo was knocked into the net by defensive stalwart Forrest Lasso. With that own goal, Morados now had a 2-0 lead!
The Rowdies nearly found a goal of their own at 28’ off a freekick at the edge of the box that forced a phenomenal diving save from Chris Hubbard to keep it out. The match continued with more back-and-forth action, with few chances ultimately being created. At 40’, a low cross from the Rowdies required Hubbard to dive on and deflect the ball off course from the awaiting attacker. Minutes later, the whistle sounded, signaling the end of the first half with LouCity holding the lead.
Things picked back up right from where they left off. The Rowdies created the first notable chance of the half at 48’ off a long and high cross that was heading goal bound. A leaping deflection from Hubbard took care of that. The pace of Tampa’s play had become less fanatic while City maintained the composed and steady approach but started to become more defensive orientated. Tampa Bay was beginning to create more and more chances. However, their shots were not landing and were all mostly off-target. Tampa’s pace and more composed attack were beginning to wear on LouCity. While City was certainly trying to be more defensively responsible, it was the play of the Rowdies that greatly limited any offensive opportunities for the boys in purple. Louisville City made their first substitution action of the night at 70’, sending Tyler Gibson into the fray for PDP. Two minutes later, a reckless swipe for the ball by Ownby nearly earned him a second yellow. Fortunately, the referee decided to keep the card in his pocket. To not press their luck any further, Ownby was subbed off at 76’ for Napo Matsoso along with Alexis Souahy coming in for Corben Bone and Kyle Greig, relieving Cameron Lancaster. While Greig and Napo coming in were similar swaps, the Bone for Souahy switch signaled the intentions that the team was opting to weather the storm for the final 15+ with an increased defensive presence.
The nightmare began at 83’. Former LouCity player, Lucky Mkosana, who had only come in two minutes prior, took a low shot from outside the box after a corner kick scramble to get the Rowdies back in the match. 2-1 with LouCity still holding the lead. With renewed confidence, Tampa Bay kept the pressure on, desperate for the equalizer to keep their season alive. At 88’, Pat McMahon relieved a worn-down Jonathan Gomez. As the 90 minutes mark approached, and a minimum of 4 minutes of stoppage time was called. At 94’, a LouCity foul gave Tampa a freekick in a dangerous area. While the kick was cleared to the box's edge, it was hit out off a City player, awarding the Rowdies a corner at 95’. With Rowdies in possession in City’s final third, the game was able to still proceed beyond the 94’ mark. The corner was taken, resulting in a stressful pinball sequence in City’s box. Should it have gotten cleared, the game would have ended. Luck was not on Louisville City’s side as after a missed clearance, Mkosana headed it in to tie the match at 2-2 at the very last second.
Between the momentum the Tampa Bay Rowdies had accumulated and the defensive-focused Louisville City substitutions, it was beginning to look like an uphill battle for the boys in purple. Much like how the 2nd half ended, the Rowdies were able to dictate the pace and possession. It was a challenge for City to get any offense going. At 97’, Lucky nearly found his hat trick however, it was not ruled a goal. Post-match pictures have surfaced giving the Rowdies fans a very good cause to be upset over the no-call but it’s likely the refs did not see it with the same level of clarity and certainty.
The death blow was death at 102’ when Dos Santos managed to find a header opportunity between Sean Totsch and Souahy. An exhausted and cramped Jorge Gonzalez was subbed out after the goal for super-sub, Antoine Hoppenot. Tampa took a shot at 107’ that had promise but it went narrowly wide. While Morados’ desperation offense did give them a bit more control in the match than they’ve had in a while, it did not net any meaningful opportunities. Chris Hubbard, who had an outstanding match, made a fingertip diving save at 114’ to keep the scoreline something manageable for his team. Louisville’s best opportunity came at 117’ when Gibson fired off a rocket shot that the Tampa keeper tipped over the goal and out of play. After 120’+2, the final whistle blew and Louisville City’s season was at an end. The Rowdies overcame going down early to win 3-2.
By The Numbers
Looking at the final stats hardly tells the whole story in this situation. As seen in the numbers below, despite the early scoreline, Tampa was appearing to be the stronger team. That became way more apparent in the 2nd half and the first part of extra time. City’s desperation kicked in as seen in the numbers to close out extra time and the match. The xG numbers and SofaScore’s “attack momentum” are better overall representations of the match; the Tampa Bay Rowdies were the better team and the final score reflected that.
I delayed writing a recap of this match for several days to find the right words, but I am still struggling to find them. I was at peace with losing to a quality opponent like Tampa. LouCity was the heavy underdog. It's how it transpired that has left me at a loss. The Rowdies were the better side but to be mere seconds or a single clearance aware is heartbreaking. We talk about it at length in the latest episode of the Vamos Morados Podcast, but it was Tampa’s ability to control the match that ultimately earned them the win. Many were upset by the conservative approach in the second half, although it was seconds away from working. I do not believe that City was “parking the bus” until around 75’. The earlier portions of the second half was simply Tampa being better. As for extra time, the boys were worn down from being pinned in their own half and we lacked some of our top attacking talents. We will unfortunately have plenty of time to mull over what happened as Louisville City’s season is now over. “I hope the players remember every single moment from shoveling snow in early (February) to now,” Coach Danny 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.”
On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has read the site, listened to the podcast, or engaged with me on Twitter and Facebook throughout the season. This is a passion project, and I am thrilled others are enjoying the work that I am doing. You all have made this way more fun than I ever imagine when I started back in mid-2020. Thank you, as always, to the boys in purple for another fun and exciting season. Win or lose, I’m proud as hell of the squad. And thank you to all the members of the front office who have humored me by answering my questions and chatting with me throughout the season. While the season may be over, I still have plenty of ideas in the works, so stay tuned for more ways to get your LouCity fix during the cold winter months. VAMOS MORADOS!
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