The Tampa Bay Rowdies lost 2-0 against Minnesota in the first leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl Finals on Saturday night at NSC Stadium in Blaine, MN. The Rowdies played without defender Takuya Yamada who was unavailable for Saturday's match due to a leg injury sustained in the 1st half of the 2nd leg of the NASL Semifinals against Carolina. Tampa Bay's eight-game unbeaten streak came to an end with the 2-0 loss.
Minnesota forward Amani Walker scored in the 67th minute with a strike from 18 yards out to put the Stars in front 1-0. Forward Simone Bracalello picked up the assist. The home team made it 2-0 in stoppage time, as second half substitute Martin Nunez was able to push the ball into the Rowdies goal, with defender Connor Tobin assisting the forward on the goal.
The Rowdies were able to hold off Minnesota in the early minutes, as the home team came out to pressure Tampa Bay. In the 11th minute, Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made a diving save to his left, containing Bracalello’s shot.
Tampa Bay was able to pick up their momentum 20 minutes into the match, and had their first clear chance on goal in the 22nd minute. Forward Mike Ambersley entered the left side of the box and powered a strike on goal, but Stars goalkeeper Mike VanOekel sent the ball out of play for a corner kick.
A minute later, midfielder Keith Savage received a perfect cross by midfielder Luke Mulholland at the far post. Savage’s shot looked to be on target, but VanOekel denied the Rowdies their first goal of the night.
In the 27th minute, Mulholland crossed the ball over to Savage, who once again had his shot contained by VanOekel.
Tampa Bay closed the first half maintaining possession of the ball and dictating the pace of the match. Savage and defender Frankie Sanfilippo both had opportunities in the final minutes, but their shots from long distance went wide of the goal.
"We played a very good first half," said Rowdies Head Coach Ricky Hill. "We were able to get our chances on goal but we didn't capitalize on those opportunities. At the half, I felt Minnesota was able to regroup and obviously they came out in the second half and scored the two goals."
In the 62nd minute, Attinella made back-to-back saves on midfielder Jamie Watson to keep the game scoreless. Minnesota took the lead in the 67th minute, when Walker blasted his shot into the top left corner of the net after receiving a pass from Bracalello.
The Rowdies came close to equalizing the match in the 74th minute, as Mulholland slid a pass to Savage, who was making a run into the box. VanOekel came out and got to the ball before Savage could get a touch on it. 84 minutes into the game, second half substitute Daniel Antoniuk headed a ball down to Ambersley who one-touched it from outside the box, but the ball went straight to VanOekel.
As the second half was ending, Minnesota extended the lead to two goals in stoppage time. Nunez was able to put the Stars up 2-0 after Tobin delivered a cross into the Rowdies box.
If Tampa Bay wins by two goals in the second leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl Finals, the game will be decided in two 15-minute halves (no sudden death) of extra time. If the match is still tied after extra time, the series will then be decided by penalty kicks. If Tampa Bay wins by three goals or more, the Rowdies will be the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl Champions. If the Rowdies draw or lose the second leg, Minnesota will be crowned the 2012 champions.
"We know the 2nd leg will be tough," said Hill. "With that being said, we will come out in search of that first goal that we hope will open up the game and allow us to score more goals. We have come back many times this season, and as it is every players last game, I know they will come out and play very hard. The team wants this championship and we hope we are able to revert the score at home in Al Lang Stadium in front of our fans."
The Rowdies will host Minnesota in the second leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl on Saturday, October 27 at Al Lang Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available starting at $12. For more information and for discounted tickets, call our front office at 813.287.1539 or log on to RowdiesSoccer.com.
Minnesota: Amani Walker - 67th minute (assisted by Simone Bracalello)
Minnesota: Martin Nunez - 90th minute (assisted by Connor Tobin)
Tampa Bay: Mike Ambersley - 48th minute
Minnesota: Kentaro Takada - 84th minute
GK Jeff Attinella, D Frankie Sanfilippo (Captain), D Daniel Scott, D JP Rodrigues, D Andres Arango, M Stuart Campbell, M Shane Hill, M Keith Savage (Evans Frimpong 80'), M Luke Mulholland, F Mike Ambersley, F Carl Cort (Daniel Antoniuk 75')
GK: Matt VanOekel; D: Justin Davis, D Kyle Altman (Captain), D Connor Tobin, D Brian Kallman, M Jamie Watson, M Neil Hlavaty, M Kentaro Takada, M Miguel Ibarra, F Amani Walker (Martin Nunez 76'), F Simone Bracalello