The overachieving Rowdies season came to a crushing end.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies first season as part of the United Soccer League came to a sad end last night at Al Lang Field as they lost in a painful game to the defending league champion New York Red Bulls II by a score of 2-1 in extra time. The game was a big battle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the USL Cup Playoffs.
The offseason holds a great many unknowns at the moment. The biggest one will be if Tampa Bay will get the call to become a member of Major League Soccer, as they are expected to expand soon by at least four teams.
But the Rowdies first USL season was a success at the gate and on the field but their hopes to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals came to a crushing end at Al Lang Field where the Rowdies have been so dominating.
It was a goal scored in extra time that ended the Rowdies very successful first year in the USL. Meanwhile, The Red Bulls II will travel Kentucky to face the top-ranked City FC team in the Eastern Conference Final next weekend.
As everyone who packed Al Lang Field wanted the Rowdies got off to a strong start with a goal in the 26th minute as Georgi Hristov found the back of the net as he has many times this year for Tampa Bay.
Early in the second half, it was the Red Bulls II finding the equalizer when Stefano Bonomo penalty kick in the 58th leveled things at 1-1.
The Rowdies had chances in the 87th minute when Michael Nanchoff had a shot saved at point-blank range, and the 88th, when Sebastian Guenzatti fired a volley that required an epic diving save from Louro to deny it.
The game advanced to 30 minutes of extra time and it was Bonomo who stunned the crowd with the game-winner just 3 minutes into the extra stanza. The Rowdies could not find a way to add another goal to tie the game and as the clock showed all zeros it was Tampa Bay that saw their season end.
“I’m obviously really disappointed with the end result,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “I thought we played great with the amount of chances we created. Their goalkeeper made some unbelievable saves, we hit the woodwork a couple of times and had one cleared off the line. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the win that I think we deserved.”
“We look back on the amount of chances that we created and we missed chances not through poor finishing,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to give their goalkeeper credit. I think he had an unbelievable night. He had three or four world-class saves tonight.”
It was a sudden and heartbreaking end to a record-setting season for the Rowdies.
The Rowdies played 32 games winning 14 games losing 7 they had 11 ties they had 15 points from goal differential with 53 total points good enough for third place in the Eastern Conference. They were just one point behind the Charleston Battery and nine points out of the top spot in the east.
“I felt we deserved at least to take it to penalties,” Rowdies Captain Joe Cole said. “Performance-wise, we deserved (to win,) but we could have played better. At the moment, it’s disappointing. We might look back and see progress from the season before, but at the moment, it’s just disappointment because we lost a game of football and the season is over.”
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov – 26th minute
New York: Stefano Bonomo – 58th minute
New York: Stefano Bonomo – 93rd minute (assisted by Florian Valot)
Tampa Bay: Zac Portillos – 35th minute
Tampa Bay: Sebastian Guenzatti – 39th minute
Tampa Bay: Joe Cole – 42nd minute
Tampa Bay: Matt Pickens – 57th minute
Tampa Bay: Martin Vingaard – 62nd minute
Tampa Bay: Walter Restrepo – 66th minute
New York: Junior Flemmings – 86th minute
New York: Hassan Ndam – 96th minute
Tampa Bay: Martin Paterson – 116th minute
Rowdies XI (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, Hunter Gorskie, Neill Collins, Zac Portillos; M Martin Vingaard (Alex Morrell 97′), Marcel Schäfer; M Walter Restrepo (Michael Nanchoff 68′), Joe Cole (c)(Martin Paterson 96′), Georgi Hristov; F Sebastian Guenzatti
New York XI (4-2-3-1): GK Evan Louro; D David Najem, Hassan Ndam, Jordan Scarlett (Tim Schmoll 71′), Ethan Kutler; M Dan Metzger, Andrew Tinari (David Abidor 119′); M Junior Flemmings, Arun Basuljevic (Ben Mines 89′), Florian Valot; F Stefano Bonomo
QUOTES AND STATISTICS USED IN THIS STORY WERE PROVIDED BY THE ROWDIES AS WELL AS THE USL. THE VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS WERE PROVIDED BY THE USL.