Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies, the first 2017 USL expansion side to kick off the new season, opened up the campaign with a 1-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 7,710 against I-4 rival Orlando City B on Saturday at Al Lang Stadium. That attendance figure also is a Rowdies record at Al Lang. All-time Rowdies goal-scoring leader Georgi Hristov tallied the lone goal, a 57th-minute penalty kick. It was a deceiving score line as Tampa Bay created a multitude of scoring opportunities against second-year OCB.
57’ – TBR – Georgi Hristov (penalty)
Three Things That Mattered:
1. Georgi Hristov fittingly posted the Rowdies’ first goal of the season, but it was the effectiveness of Leo Fernandes’ play down the left side in both halves that finally broke down the OCB defense to gain the lead. In the 56th minute, the former Philadelphia Union midfielder Fernandes split the Orlando defense and found himself one-on-one with OCB goalkeeper Earl Edwards, who tripped up Fernandes in the six-yard area. Hristov, the Rowdies’ all-time goal-scoring leader, calmly slotted the ball past Edwards for the 1-0 lead in the 57th minute. This is Hristov’s sixth year with the Rowdies and he now has 35 goals in league matches during his tenure.
2. Tampa Bay created a slew of scoring chances, as the 13-2 shots advantage demonstrated in the opening half, and Edwards certainly kept visiting Orlando in the match with some clutch stops. In the 39th minute, when Joe Cole got past the OCB defense on the right side of the box, he crossed in for Hristov, who took an extra touch to his right toward the corner of the six-yard area to attempt to evade Edwards. Hristov hoped it would be enough space, but Edwards stayed low and kept up Hristov to come up with the biggest save of the first 45 minute. Another standout moment for Edwards was his 77th-minute leaping save against Cole. Cole took a deep attempt that was destined for the upper left corner, and even though Edwards had to adjust his angle a bit, he stayed focused to parry the ball over the crossbar. In the 90th minute, Edwards again stopped Cole one-on-one at the close.
3. Many eyes were on former Wolfsburg legend Marcel Schäfer, who signed late with the Rowdies in the offseason and was eager to challenge OCB on Saturday night in his debut. During the first half, Schäfer tried to uncork a couple of long-distance shots, one on a set piece that was blocked by Orlando’s wall and a deflected blast in the opening 20 minutes that led to a corner. It was a quiet first 45 minutes in terms of on-goal challenges, but Tampa Bay was the instigator, with Schäfer only a small part of a collective attacking effort.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:
Joe Cole, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Although Cole didn’t find the score sheet, he consistently kept Orlando’s defense on its toes – whether shooting or dishing to his array of options – as the Rowdies were in control from start to finish to earn the season-opening victory.
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Toronto FC II – April 1, 7:30 p.m. ET, Al Lang Stadium
Orlando City B vs. Louisville City FC – March 30, 7:30 p.m. ET, Orlando City Stadium