FC Tulsa falls to Tampa Bay Rowdies in playoff opener

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – As the sun begins to set over the marina just 23 miles outside of Tampa Bay, FC Tulsa will take the pitch surrounded by green and yellow with one thing in mind – an upset. Upset the home crowd, upset the bookies in Vegas, and upset the club with the highest percentage chance to win the whole thing – the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

It is the third USL Championship Playoffs match in the history of FC Tulsa and the second in as many seasons. The 2017 Roughnecks and both the 2020 and 2021 FC Tulsa squads have a lot in common. All three have made the Playoffs, won the Wrench, but none have won a postseason match. At least, not yet.

For the first time in nearly three months, FC Tulsa is fully healthy. Injuries to key players have subsided and while fitness is still a consideration, head coach Michael Nsien has his entire roster at his disposal. There is no better time to have a squad at full health, and when it comes to shocking an opponent like the Tampa Bay Rowdies, FC Tulsa will need to call on everything it has learned this past season.

The Rowdies and FC Tulsa have never played each other in the USL Championship before. The Florida side joined the League relatively recently, back in 2017 and the two sides have always been in opposite conferences until this season. However, the sides have matched up 14 total times back in the NASL between 1978 and 1984. The Roughnecks own the series lead 8-6. There has never been a draw between the clubs, and with tomorrow night being a playoff match, it will be no different.

Despite dominating the regular season, the USL Championship Eastern Conference Quarterfinals have proven the No. 1 seed is far from infallible. Between 2015-2019, the No. 1 seed lost its first Playoffs match three times. In addition, in each of the last five seasons, the top seed has been involved in a penalty shootout following 120 minutes of action. On the season, FC Tulsa is 6-8 in PK attempts whereas the Rowdies are 5-8, but have a keeper regarded as one of the best there is in stopping shots from the spot. Should the result come down to a shootout, it will be can’t-miss soccer.

Despite not even being given a chance in this one by many, FC Tulsa is poised for a result tomorrow night. As fans know, the club has tended to play great clubs very hard. It won the season series vs Birmingham Legion FC, split the season series with LouCity, and beat RGV FC Toros. In total, FC Tulsa was 6W-7L-2D in the regular season when facing clubs currently in the Playoffs, proving it can hang with the top squads in the League.

For Tulsa.

Kickoff from Al Lang Stadium is slated at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Attached are FC Tulsa Match Notes and prematch quotes from Michael Nsien, defender Bradley Bourgeois and midfielder Rodrigo da Costa

SCOUTING THE TAMPA BAY ROWDIES The Rowdies are a club that knows how to win. Since joining the USL Championship in 2017, Tampa Bay has made the Playoffs every year except for 2018, including its 2020 venture into the Final before it was canceled due to Covid-19. This season, the Rowdies’ scored 55 goals in their 32 matches, but their defense was one of the best in League history. The Florida club conceded just 23 goals, eight fewer than second-best El Paso. Its 15 clean sheets were by far the most in the USL Championship and its streak of 894 straight minutes without allowing a match is a League record.

Forward Sebastián Guenzatti leads the club with 21 goals, second-best in the USL Championship, and is first on the club with six assists. Keeper Evan Louro was awarded the 2021 Golden Glove, the award for the keeper with the lowest goals against average. Louro allowed only 23 goals in 31 matches and led the League with 14 clean sheets.

BACK 2 BACK For the first time in club history, FC Tulsa has made the USL Championship Playoffs two straight seasons. The club made the Playoffs in 2017 as the Roughnecks, earning the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference that year after a 14W-14L-4D season and setting a franchise record for wins. After making the Playoffs last season as well, FC Tulsa tied its 2017 win total this season with 14 and looks to shake off its shootout loss in El Paso last season and upset the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night.

FAMILIAR FACES Not only did these two clubs know one another back in the early 1980s, but three players on the pitch were on the same club with one another back in 2019. Bradley Bourgeois, Lebo Moloto, and Tampa Bay’s Forrest Lasso were all a part of Nashville SC in its final season in the USL Championship. Bourgeois and Moloto started the season with Nashville and Lasso was added midway through the season from FC Cincinnati in its inaugural MLS season.

ONE SEED SECURITY Despite a dominating regular season for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the USL Championship Eastern Conference Quarterfinals have proven the No. 1 seed is far from infallible. Since 2015, the top seed has lost three times in its first playoff match with the Orange County Blues losing in 2015, Sacramento Republic losing in 2016, and Real Monarchs losing in 2017.

In addition to these three matches, No. 1 seed FC Cincinnati was taken to a shootout by Nashville SC in 2019 in the first round and No. 1 seed Phoenix Rising FC was taken into a shootout by Austin Bold in 2019. Both top seeds won their respective matches, but those results did not come easily. There is a history of early upsets in the USL Playoffs and FC Tulsa is looking to join that list.