Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Rowdies vs. SL Benfica’s U-20s (Exhibition Game)

SEIXAL, Portugal (March 3, 2015)  —  Another match, another win.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies notched win number two on their preseason tour of Portugal on Tuesday morning with a 3-1 victory over SL Benfica’s U-20 team. The Rowdies are now 2-0-0 on the trip, having previously defeated CD Fatima on Sunday.
The match was played under perfect skies at a beautiful venue, SL Benfica’s Academy Complex in Seixal, just across the Rio Tagus from the capital city of Lisbon.
Coach Thomas Rongen changed the format of his team from the previous preseason matches, opting to let an 11-man unit play an hour, before being replaced by a second unit to play the last 30 minutes. In previous matches, each unit got 45 minutes.
The starting XI was captained by midfielder Marcelo Saragosa.
After a few minutes of uneasiness that allowed Benfica to settle on the ball and possess it, the Rowdies got themselves into the match and confidence started to soar.
Georgi Hristov gave Tampa Bay a great start, racing into the box in the 10th minute and earning a penalty kick after being brought down by the goalkeeper. Hristov converted the subsequent penalty to give the Rowdies a 1-0 lead early.
Ten minutes later, Hristov was the creator of another Rowdies goal. He chased a long ball over the top to the byline, cleverly sliding to get a foot around the ball before it rolled over the line for a Benfica goal kick. Hristov then slotted a pass back toward the penalty spot, where midfielder Keith Savage first-timed it hard into the net for a 2-0 Rowdies lead.
The rest of the first half was pretty even, though Benfica struggled to create scoring opportunities on its own. Its best chances came on free kicks around the box, though the Rowdies quickly organized to defend the free kicks and allow few shots on target.
Shortly after half time, the referee awarded Benfica a penalty kick of its own, which was converted to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Rowdies.
After the mass substitutions on the hour mark, the Rowdies were again the dominant team, creating chance after chance and peppering Benfica’s net.
Zak Boggs nearly made the score 3-1 tapping a rebound off the underside of the crossbar and over the line, but the assistant referee adjudged him to have been in an offside position on the initial shot and waived the goal off.
The Rowdies would get their third goal though, with 20-year forward Darwin Espinal taking advantage of a Benfica mistake and breaking away toward goal. After rounding the goalkeeper, Espinal stopped the ball on a dime to tap it around a defender that had recovered, leaving the defender on his back as Espinal confidently laced the ball into the net for a 3-1 win.
It was Espinal’s first goal as a member of the Rowdies.

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