ROWDIES BEAT ATLANTA SILVERBACKS 3-0 IN SPRING FINALE
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (June 13, 2015) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies ended the North American Soccer League Spring Season with a 3-0 win over the visiting Atlanta Silverbacks on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay didn’t get the help it needed from Jacksonville Armada FC to win the Spring Season, but it will head into the midseason break with plenty of momentum thanks to their biggest win of the season. The Rowdies needed Jacksonville to beat the New York Cosmos to have a chance at overturning a goal differential deficit, but the Armada could only pull off a 3-3 draw. The Cosmos won the Spring Season with the result.
After a scoreless first half, a few slight tactical adjustments to help the pace of play by head coach Thomas Rongen helped Corey Hertzog, Martín Núñez and Georgi Hristov all score goals in the second half to lead the Rowdies to victory.
"We wanted to get into the break with a win," Rongen said. "Somewhere in the back of our minds, we talked if we could get to one, two, or three goals up and something happened in the (Cosmos) game, that would be great, but that was not our intent. Our intent was to get three points."
Atlanta nearly took a surprise lead in the 56th minute when Shaka Bangura took a shot from a sharp angle that hit both the crossbar and a goal post before caroming out of danger.
From there, the Rowdies utterly dominated the match.
Hertzog opened the scoring on the hour mark after brilliant individual work from Darwin Espinal to create the go-ahead moment. Espinal departs for international duty with the Honduras U-23 team Sunday, but not before receiving the ball and taking his defender on one-on-one and beating him to create space for Hertzog at the near post. Hertzog thrusted his chest to the ball and deflected it inside the post for his second goal of the season.
"All week, the coaches have been telling me to go to the near post," Hertzog said. "When I saw Darwin taking his man on, the first thing that came to my head was to get to the near post. He shot it at me and I just tried to get anything on it. ... I hadn't scored since the first game and I've been working so hard all season. It feels good to go into that break with confidence."
Núñez doubled the lead with a superb free kick in the 75th minute, lifting the ball over the Silverbacks wall and dropping it back underneath the crossbar in a perfect spot from about 22 yards out. It was Nunez's third goal of the season, tying him with Maicon Santos for the team lead.
The Silverbacks were reduced to 10 men after forward Jaime Chavez -- who entered the match in the 79th minute -- received yellow cards in the 85th and 86th minutes to earn a quick dismissal.
Second-half substitute Georgi Hristov scored the last goal of the night, converting a penalty kick in the 89th minute after winger Robert Hernandez was fouled in the 18-yard box by Atlanta captain Simon Mensing. Hristov has now scored in seven consecutive matches against the Silverbacks.
Tampa Bay's fourth clean sheet of the Spring ensure the Rowdies head into the break unbeaten at home and on a seven-match NASL unbeaten streak.
"We've worked very hard to keep clean sheets and look after each other on the pitch," center back Tamika Mkandawire said. "We defended as a team, starting from the front. We have a great set of guys and we work really hard on the training pitch with our coaches."
The Rowdies ended the Spring Season with 19 points, one shy of New York's 20.
Rowdies: Corey Hertzog - 60th minute (Assisted by Darwin Espinal)
Rowdies: Martin Nuñez - 75th minute
Rowdies: Georgi Hristov - 89th minute (Penalty Kick)
Rowdies: Pickens; King, Antonijevic (Chavez 73'), Mkandawire (c), Sweat; Guerra, Shriver, Núñez (Hristov 81'); Hernandez, Hertzog, Espinal (Michaud 90')
Atlanta Silverbacks: Ceus; Miller, McKenzie, Mensing (c), Black; Oppong; Reed, Denissen (Chavez 79'), Harlley (Porter 46'); Horth, Bangura (Okafor 68')