ROWDIES NOTCH BIG 3-1 WIN OVER NEW YORK COSMOS
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rowdies and the New York Cosmos wrote another chapter in their dramatic history on a beautiful Saturday night in St. Pete, and this chapter is one that Rowdies fans will enjoy reading.
Goals from Keith Savage, Tamika Mkandawire and Blake Wagner saw the Rowdies fly past the Cosmos 3-1 in front of 4,273 fans at Al Lang Stadium.
“I’m delighted with the win,” Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. “Overall, it’s probably one of our most complete 90 minutes. We’ve had moments where we’ve been good in games, but we haven’t been able to sustain it those moments over longer periods. I think the forward play was lively tonight and Georgi (Hristov) and Amani (Walker) caused all sorts of problems for the Cosmos’ back two.”
The night started well, with a celebration for Rowdies captain Frankie Sanfilippo, who made his 101st official appearance for the club, and got even better fast as Savage smashed home the opening goal 22 minutes into the match.
Amani Walker muscled a Cosmos defender off the ball and raced down the right flank before crossing the ball to Savage near the corner of the six-yard box beyond the far post. Savage coolly redirected the ball on frame, with New York’s Hunter Freeman able to touch it, but not keep it out of the night.
Savage has been an impact player for the Rowdies in the last two weeks since being inserted into the starting lineup for the first time since May 17. Last week in Carolina, he had an assist on a free kick. Saturday night, he scored the Rowdies’ opening goal.
“I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to play,” Savage said of his recent run of starts. “This team is deep and I had to learn that the hard way. Making the most of my opportunities is awesome. … It was a tight angle, but I just tried to connect and put it across goal. I was so happy when it went in.”
With a 1-0 lead on the board, the Rowdies attacked confidently, piling the pressure on New York. Walker, Georgi Hristov and Shane Hill all had fantastic scoring chances in the minutes that followed Savage’s goal, but the Rowdies were unable to score again in the first half, carrying the one-goal advantage into the locker room at halftime.
New York forward Mads Stokkelien had a golden opportunity to equalize for the Cosmos late in the half when Sebastian Guenzatti’s shot was blocked and fell right to him with space to score. He blasted his shot well over the crossbar and the threat was ended.
The Rowdies doubled their lead in the 58th minute when defender Tamika Mkandawire scored his second goal in as many weeks. Midfielder Brian Shriver dribbled down the left flank and lofted a cross to the back post. Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer punched the ball to Mkandawire who hit a volley into the bottom left corner of Maurer's net.
Saturday night was Mkandawire’s first time playing the Rowdies-Cosmos rivalry.
“More important (than my goals), that’s back-to-back wins,” Mkandawire said. “Two big wins for us and six points on the board. I know the history between the two sides and it’s an honor to play for the Rowdies in such a big game and be part of their history. I’m delighted for the team, the fans and the club.”
After Mkandawire’s second goal, the Cosmos created their first two dangerous chances of the half in quick succession, both off of crosses from the right side. The first was cleared by defender J.P. Rodrigues on a slide tackle, the second was punched away by a diving Pickens.
New York got on the scoresheet in the 81st minute when two Cosmos substitutes combined with nice play on the top of the box. Hans Denissen played a through ball to fellow forward Stefan Dimitrov who clipped the ball past a charging Pickens and off of the far post into the net.
The Rowdies managed to withstand New York's late pressure and even increase their lead in stoppage time. Lucky Mkosana dribbled through the Cosmos box and slid the ball to Blake Wagner with enough space to shoot. Wagner made no mistake with his shot, drilling into the bottom corner.
The win was the Rowdies’ first against the Cosmos since May 26, 1984 and puts the Rowdies into one of the positions that qualify for The Championship.
“It’s a huge win for us,” Savage said. “It’s such a huge rivalry and they’re such a huge team. They have great players in Senna and Joseph Nane and others, so that’s a big win for us. Any three points is big, but this one, and in particular at home, feels good. It’s great for our fans.”
Rowdies: Keith Savage- 22nd minute (Assisted by Amani Walker)
Rowdies: Tamika Mkandawire- 58th minute
New York: Stefan Dimitrov- 81st minute (Assisted by Hans Denissen)
Rowdies: Blake Wagner- 90th minute
Rowdies: Pickens; Sanfilippo (c), Rodrigues, Mkandawire, Wallace; Shriver (Frimpong 66'), Russell, Hill, Savage (Wagner 83'); Walker (Mkosana 70'), Hristov
Cosmos: Maurer; Freeman, Mendes (c), Roversio, Ayoze; Szetela, Senna (Nane 63'); Guenzatti, Flores, Johnson (Dimitrov 60'); Stokkelien (Denissen 71')