HERNANDEZ GOAL LIFTS ROWDIES PAST STRIKERS 1-0
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (May 16, 2015) -- As the rain poured down at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night, Robert Hernandez was in the right place at the right time.
Hernandez's first goal of the season carried a lot of weight, lifting the Rowdies over the rival Fort Lauderdale Strikers in front of 6,851 fans in a very tight match, but was nothing more than a tap-in at the back post. Chaos in front of Strikers goalkeeper David Meves saw the ball pop over to Hernandez all by himself to score the game-winner in the 55th minute.
The victory puts the Rowdies into second place alone in the NASL Spring Season standings, three points behind the league-leading New York Cosmos with three games to go. It also puts Tampa Bay in control of the Coastal Cup, with six points, ahead of Fort Lauderdale's three and Jacksonville's zero.
"It wasn't just another game, because I knew the importance of this game in terms of the standings, in terms of being at home and in terms of knowing that it would be in front of a great crowd," Rowdies Head Coach Thomas Rongen said. "A win for us, to stay in the hunt with three games left, was the most important thing."
Forward Maicon Santos had taken a shot which Meves saved but couldn't control. It bounced to the 5-foot-5 Hernandez for the defining moment of the match.
“(Hernandez) can stretch defenses because of his dribble-penetration and speed,” Rongen said. “As a young player, he’s very gifted. There’s certain things I can’t teach, and his speed is sprinters speed. For him to get a goal was very cool. He’s not big, but he’s fast.”
For Hernandez, who had missed excellent scoring chances in previous games, getting his first goal for the Rowdies was huge.
“It was very emotional,” Hernandez said. “Now that I’ve scored, hopefully there are many more to come.”
Goalkeeper Matt Pickens didn't face a ton of shots from the Strikers, but was there at every time of need to keep his second-consecutive clean sheet in the win. Rongen credited the play of not only Pickens, but the four defenders in front of him and two defensive midfielders, for the fact that Tampa Bay’s goals-against-average has now dipped below one goal per game.
Rowdies: Robert Hernandez - 55th minute (unassisted)
Rowdies: Pickens; King, Mkandawire, Antonijevic, Sweat; Saragosa (c), Menjivar, Hristov; Hernandez (Balchan 83'), Santos (Guerra 86'), Núñez (Hertzog 73')
Fort Lauderdale: Meves; Graye, Sanfilippo (c), Kling, Guerrero (Ramirez 73'); Sanchez (Hassan 73'), Freitas, Gonzalez, Angulo (Chin 57'), Pinho