EXTRA-TIME WINNER LIFTS ROWDIES PAST STRIKERS 3-2
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Blake Wagner scored a dramatic extra-time winner as the Tampa Bay Rowdies completed a three-goal comeback to top the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 3-2 in the Florida Derby on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.
Fort Lauderdale led 2-0 at the 34 minute mark, but a goal from Willie Hunt in first-half stoppage time put the Rowdies on the comeback trail. Anthony Wallace equalized the affair with a stunning goal in the 62nd minute to set up Wagner’s late winner. All three goals came from the Rowdies’ backline as Tampa Bay scored multiple goals in a game for the first time this season.
“It was tremendous. I’m very happy,” Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. “It’s a big three points, but it is only three points. Being 2-nil down with our difficulties at home, I must applaud our fans for sticking with the team and supporting them. The ovation we got at halftime, even though we were losing, must have lifted the team. I’m happy we were able to reward the fans.”
Mark Anderson and Shawn Chin scored goals to put the Strikers ahead in the 19th and 34th minute, respectively, but the Rowdies piled the pressure on in search of a goal as the half continued on.
Georgi Hristov earned a penalty kick for Tampa Bay in the 34th minute, but Fort Lauderdale goalkeeper Oka Nikolov made the save to keep the Rowdies off the board.
Nikolov was omnipresent in the opening half, saving from point-blank range on a number of occasions as Lucky Mkosana and Christophe Lallet wreaked havoc in the box. Nikolov recorded nine saves in the first half to keep the Rowdies off the board until late. He finished with 13.
“I have to commend the players for having the resilience to play for the whole game even when we were 2-nil down,” Hill said. “We missed a penalty when we were 2-nil down. A lot of teams could have dropped their heads and felt sorry for themselves, but this lot didn’t. Credit to our guys for showing great character and commitment.”
Fort Lauderdale’s Carlos Salazar was dismissed from the match after picking up a second yellow card in the 41st minute. Up a man, the Rowdies drove the Strikers legs to exhaustion.
Hunt started the rally with a headed goal in first-half stoppage time, his first goal of the season.
Wallace pulled the Rowdies even with a sharp right-footed shot from well outside the 18-yard box that dipped and curved between defenders before buzzing past Nikolov and into the net. Midfielder Shane Hill laid the ball off to Wallace about seven yards beyond the edge of the box. Wallace took his time and weighed his options before blasting home.
“They were a man down so they were just trying to pack everything in and sit back,” Wallace said. “I figured, ‘Why not step up and take that space?’ Shane fed me the ball with a lot of time, I lifted my head, put it back down and struck it.”
The Strikers looked to have secured a point before Wagner’s strike sent the fans home happy and sent the Rowdies into Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup tie against Orlando City with some momentum.
Fort Lauderdale: Mark Anderson - 19th minute (Assisted by Marius Ebbers)
Fort Lauderdale: Shawn Chin - 34th minute (Assisted by Marius Ebbers)
Rowdies: Willie Hunt - 45th minute (Assisted Georgi Hristov)
Rowdies: Anthony Wallace - 62nd minute
Rowdies: Blake Wagner - 90th minute
Rowdies: Mizell; Hunt, Sanfilippo (c), Rodrigues, Wallace (Wagner 78'); Lallet, Russell, Hill, Frimpong; Mkosana, Hristov
Fort Lauderdale: Nikolov; King, Alves, Antonijevic, Guerrero (c); Nurse, Salazar, Chin (Murphy 69'), Anderson, Picault (Hall 32'); Ebbers (Perez 90')