Rowdies Score Twice from Penalty Spot to Defeat Atlanta 2-1
The Tampa Bay Rowdies came away with a 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks on Saturday night at Atlanta Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, GA. Two penalty kicks early in the second half gave the Rowdies the 2-0 advantage as forwards Georgi Hristov and Mike Ambersley scored from the penalty spot. MInutes later, Atlanta would cut the lead to one after midfielder Pablo Cruz placed his free kick past Rowdies goalkeeper Diego Restrepo.
"I thought we came out in the second half and played very brightly," explained Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill. "I have to give our players credit for sticking with it and getting three points at the end. If they give me this much effort every week, I can’t complain."
With Atlanta pressuring Tampa Bay early on, Restrepo became one of the key players for the Rowdies making two great saves in the 15th and 17th minute. Initially, the Venezuelan goalkeeper first denied midfielder Borfor Carr, while minutes later he would go on to make another save, this time on forward Ruben Luna. Rowdies defender Takuya Yamada had misplayed the ball and Luna entered the box going one-on-one with Restrepo, but the goalkeeper was able to make the stop.
As the minutes went on, Tampa Bay seemed to settle down and would get their first chance off a strike from midfielder Keith Savage. The Florida natives shot in the 22nd minute found a diving Silverbacks goalkeeper, Joe Nasco, who picked up the shot easily. Thanks to a great defensive play by Rowdies defender Jordan Gafa, the NASL Champions denied defender Beto Navarro the first goal. Gafa found himself well-placed and headed out Navarro's attempt on goal.
Another shot from outside the 18-yard box almost put the Rowdies up, with midfielder Luke Mulholland setting up Shane Hill at the top of the box. His strike was headed to the back of the net, but Nasco would once again get in the way of it. Atlanta would have one more chance to go up one goal, with Carr blasting a shot as he entered the box. Restrepo would come up big with a fantastic save to send the ball out for a corner kick.
Minutes into the second half, Hristov would be brought down in Atlanta's box and the referee awarded the visiting team a penalty kick. The Bulgarian would bury his shot in the bottom right corner of the net to make it 1-0 in the 50th minute. With this goal, Hristov now lead the Rowdies with five goals in league play. In the 58th minute another penalty kick would be called in favor of the Rowdies, this time for a handball inside the box. It would be Ambersley who would score in the 59th minute, placing his kick in the back of the net for his first goal this season.
The Rowdies two-goal lead wouldn't last, as in the 62nd minute Atlanta would take advantage of a free kick just outside the Rowdies box to cut the lead to one. Cruz slotted his free kick over Tampa Bay's wall and out of the reach of Restrepo to make it 2-1.
Although Atlanta put on the pressure in the final 30 minutes, it was Mulholland who would come close to scoring in the 71st minute. The midfielder stepped up to take a free kick and blasted the ball of the right post and out of play, keeping the match 2-1.
With the match entering the final minutes of play, it was Restrepo who would play a huge part in the Rowdies win. After denying defender Martyn Lancaster's header, Restrepo seemed to gain confidence and made another game-changing save in the 84th minute. Second-half substitute Brad Stisser found himself with space and took a shot from the right flank, only to find a diving Restrepo at the end of his strike. Stisser would once again have a chance to tie it in the dying moments of the match, but Restrepo would deny him the goal, this time with a point-blank save.
Even though Rowdies forward Carl Cort would be sent off in stoppage time, the Rowdies would hold on to the 2-1 lead. Despite the Rowdies victory, Carolina defeated Minnesota 3-2 in Cary, NC and ended Tampa Bay's aspiration to hosting the NASL Soccer Bowl. Carolina's 19 points are now out of reach for the Rowdies, as the reigning NASL Champions have only one match remaining in the Spring Season.
Rowdies: Georgi Hristov - 50th minute (Penalty Kick)
Rowdies: Mike Ambersley - 59th minute (Penalty Kick)
Atlanta: Pablo Cruz - 62nd minute
Atlanta: Nasco; Navarro, Hunt, Bloom, Lancaster (Captain) (James 83'); Cruz, Menjivar, Blanco, Carr; Mendes (Stisser 59'), Luna (Moroney 90+)
Rowdies: Restrepo; Gafa, Sanfilippo (Captain), Yamada (Needham 77'), Arango; Mulholland, Hill, Savage, Frimpong; Hristov (Cort 81), Ambersley