FC Tampa Bay is headed to the postseason for the first time after knocking off the NSC Minnesota Stars 2-1 Tuesday night at NSC Stadium in Blaine, Minnesota. Midfielder Mozzi Gyorio converted a free kick in the 77th minute for the game-winner as FC Tampa Bay brought home its 10th win of the year and clinched a berth in the 2011 NASL playoffs.
"Clinching a playoff spot is a great accomplishment and is a reward for the hard work the players have put in throughout the season," said head coach Ricky Hill. "I am very pleased for the boys. I thought we played with some real conviction from the first minute to the last. I am delighted for the fans and the front office, and everyone associated with FC Tampa Bay."
FC Tampa Bay struck first on a goal by midfielder Keith Savage in the 22nd minute. Forward Aaron King lofted a pass just in front of the goal line to Savage, who headed it home by the far post for his third goal of the year. The assist was King's fifth of the year, moving him into a tie for first on the team and tied for fourth in the league. With the goal, FC Tampa Bay has now scored at least one first half goal in 11 of its last 12 matches.
"There is no better feeling in the locker room than to see the excitement in the guys and the coaches, and to know we have clinched a playoff spot," said Savage.
FC Tampa Bay carried the 1-0 lead into halftime, but the Stars tied the game in the 51st minute on a near post header by defender Brian Kallman off a corner kick from midfielder Luke Mulholland, who made his NSC Minnesota debut in the match. It was Kallman's first goal of the year.
Gyorio punched FCTB's playoff ticket in the 77th minute when he froze Stars goalkeeper Joe Warren with a brilliant free kick around the wall that caromed off the post and into the goal. It was Gyorio's second goal of the year, with both coming on free kicks. His first goal of the season came in the 90th minute at Montreal on August 10 and capped a furious comeback for FC Tampa Bay in a 3-3 draw. In that match, FCTB scored twice in the final six minutes to earn a point.
"The free kick was pretty close to the same position as the Montreal game," said Gyorio. "I hit it the way I know how to, and it worked out perfectly. It is definitely a huge accomplishment for the organization to make the playoffs. It is a good thing that we have clinched a spot, but it doesn't stop here."
"It is not by chance that he came through again. Mozzi and several others stay late after training to practice for moments like this," said Hill. "He tries to visizlize what he is going to do with the ball, and just like at Montreal, he went over the wall side with great expertise and great technique."
FC Tampa Bay had three goals called back for offsides in the match and goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made seven saves, including five in the second half, which included two stops on breakaways.
"It has been a collective effort and the group of players we have is a fantastic one in terms of their character and personality," said Hill. "Of course, everyone would like to play, but only 11 can. Especially through the injuries and various other things, everyone has had a chance to contribute this year and the attitude of the players has been first class."
FC Tampa Bay was again without several starters for the match, including defender Andres Arango, who served a suspension following his red card at Carolina last Saturday. FCTB also played without midfielder Pascal Millien and defender JP Rodrigues because of injuries. Jeremy Christie started at defender, his first start of the year after returning to action off the bench at Carolina following offseason hip surgery, and became the 22nd player to start a game for FC Tampa Bay this season.
"It is a testament to the players, especially with all of the injuries, and everyone has risen to the occasion when they have gotten the chance to come on," said Savage.
"It is a team game, and whomever the coaches have called upon, they are always ready to play," said Gyorio. "It is about being a team player, and that's why I think we have been so successful this year. We work together, show a lot of character and fight for one another."
FC Tampa Bay is now unbeaten in four of its last five road matches, with its final regular season away game set for this Saturday, September 10 at Puerto Rico at 7:30 p.m. Following Saturday's match, FC Tampa Bay closes out the regular season with home matches against the Stars (September 17) and Ft. Lauderdale (September 24). NSC Minnesota has now lost four consecutive matches and is winless in seven straight overall.
Fans can order their 2011 playoff tickets by contacting the front office at 813-287-1539 or via email at email@example.com.
FC Tampa Bay Lineup: GK Jeff Attinella, D Frankie Sanfilippo (Captain), D Jeremy Christie (Shane Hill 89'), D David Hayes, D Takuya Yamada, M Chad Burt, M Mozzi Gyorio, M Keith Savage, M Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, F Mike Ambersley, F Aaron King (Kerry Baptiste 67')
NSC Minnesota Lineup: GK Joe Warren, D Justin Davis, D Cristiano Dias, D Chris Clements (Captain), D Brian Kallman, M Sandy Gbandi, M Kentaro Takada, M Scott Lorenz (Amani Walker 42'), M Luke Mulholland, F Lucas Rodriguez (Anthony Hamilton 29'), F Brian Cvilikas (Devin Del Do 80')
FCTB: Keith Savage - 22nd minute (assisted by Aaron King)
MIN: Brian Kallman - 51st minute (assisted by Luke Mulholland)
FCTB: Mozzi Gyorio - 77th minute
MIN: Kentaro Takada - 67th minute
FCTB: 11 shots (5 on goal), 7 saves, 5 fouls, 4 offsides, 4 corners
MIN: 16 shots (8 on goal), 3 saves, 8 fouls, 1 offsides, 3 corners