Harrisburg may have lost on Wednesday night, but they put together a performance that was miles ahead of their some of their most recent matches. This was a team that had dropped their last four matches by a combined score of 12-0. But on a rainy night on City Island they went out and they managed to push Tampa Bay to the limit for a full ninety minutes.
You could tell that a shake up was coming for the City Islanders when they released their starting XI before the match. The time off meant that Mo Dabo was ready to return to the midfield, and Pedro Ribeiro made it back to the starting lineup as well. Rather than returning to the forward position that he had been playing at back in June, Pedro was able to start in the midfield and allow Ropapa Mensah to continue playing as Harrisburg’s main striker.
The rain was still falling when the match kicked off, and it seemed to really dampen the spirits of the Rowdies. Their play was flat on defense, allowing the City Islanders to take several shots at goalkeeper Matt Pickens. However, most of the shots stayed low, and Pickens was able to calmly pick them up. He was unfazed by the wet conditions.
The Harrisburg press finally paid off in the 31st minute. Jonny Mendoza sent a corner over the Tampa Bay defenders that bounced loose in front of an open Lee Nishanian, who tucked the ball inside the far post. The goal was Nishanian’s first for the City Islanders and it put an end to their scoreless streak at a lean 616 minutes.
Going down a goal to the City Islanders seemed to snap the Rowdies out of their funk, and they immediately set to work offensively. The equalizer came off of a corner kick (as I predicted) just five minutes later. The corner bounced in front of the Harrisburg net for far too long, and despite a few good clearances from the defense, the ball still found it’s way to the feet of Georgi Hristov who easily tucked it away to tie things at one.
Unfortunately for the City Islanders, they failed to get their heads back in the match quick enough after giving up the goal. Martin Paterson made them pay for this just two minutes later. He found himself with plenty of space outside the top of the box, so he curled a shot towards the far post that Brandon Miller had no chance at. Watch for this one on the USL goal of the week.
The City Islanders didn’t let this misfortune take all the wind out of their sails, and they used the last few minutes before the half to push for an equalizer. Harrisburg’s attack was pushing up the right side the entire first half, but defenders like Neill Collins were often able to shut down Shawn McLaws or force Cardel Benbow to pass the ball back. This sequence played out again in the 45th minute, but this time Pedro Ribeiro was able to take a hard, low shot from distance. A well timed deflection from Ropapa Mensah helped freeze Matt Pickens, and the ball bounced into the net to make it 2-2 at the half.
With such an action packed first half, it’d be tough for the second half to live up to expectations. Both sides came back on the field with a little less energy as the soggy conditions continued to take their toll. Tempers started to flare up as well, as the wet grass seemed to lead to an increase in the number of sliding tackles.
Ultimately the final outcome of the match came down to a single play in the 67th minute. Tampa Bay’s Alex Morrell had a one on one break away opportunity with Brandon Miller, but Jonny Mendoza was able to streak in from behind to make the tackle. It looked clean from the stands, but any time there’s that much contact inside the box, you know the referee’s going to be pointing at the spot. Harrisburg’s protests fell on deaf ears, and Georgi Hristov was able to calmly finish the PK to put the Rowdies up 3-2.
Harrisburg used the last 20 minutes to push for another equalizer, but they couldn’t muster the same energy from the first half. The constant rain had taken its toll, and Tampa Bay pulled back into a more defensive alignment to protect their lead. The Rowdies were also able to use the typical time wasting tools to great effect and they even put in a few more shots on goal that Brandon Miller had to dig deep to save.
The City Islanders weren’t able to put together a serious challange during the four minutes of added time, and the whistle blew with a final score of 3-2 in favor of the Rowdies. Then, as the last few waterlogged fans made their way out of FNB Field, the rain finally stopped.
- While this will show up in the record books as a loss just like any other, Harrisburg managed to completely put their recent form behind them on Wednesday. This is excellent news for the team, and also for your humble City Islanders correspondent. Those 3-0 and 5-0 losses were no fun to cover.
- The win for the Rowdies (only their second road win of the year) helps get them back into 4th place in the Eastern Conference. They have a strong shot at hosting a playoff match at Al Lang this year, but the Rochester Rhinos are sitting right behind them with two games in hand.
- Harrisburg saw yellow five times during Wednesday’s match, but two of them will hurt more than others. Midfielder Mo Dabo will be facing a suspension for his fifth yellow card and Tiago Calvano will be suspended as well for collecting his eight yellow card. Neither of them will get to make the trip to St. Louis on Saturday.