ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Oct. 27, 2012) - The Tampa Bay Rowdies were crowned champions of the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl after a thrilling shootout victory in front of a sellout crowd of 6,208 on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium. A 3-1 match erased the Stars’ two-goal lead after the first leg, then prevailed after Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made three saves during penalty kicks after the Rowdies held on through the entire extra time period despite playing a man down.
"The energy that the crowd had was amazing and that really pushed us forward, especially after they scored," said Attinella. "We were able to dictate the pace of the game and not let Minnesota take us out of the match. There was 120 minutes left of the season for us and we wanted to leave everything on the pitch and we did exactly that."
The Rowdies scored 25 minutes into the game, as midfielder Keith Savage was able to slot the ball into the box to forward Carl Cort. The forward smashed the ball into the back of the net for his second goal since his arrival to the Rowdies.
Savage picked up the 2-0 goal in the 51st minute, after a feed from defender Andres Arango. The aggregate score was 2-2, but that would not last as in the next minute Minnesota’s midfielder Lucas Rodriguez would score and put the Stars up with a 3-2 aggregate score.
Second-half substitute forward Daniel Antoniuk scored the crucial goal in the 86th minute, making the score 3-1, leveling the aggregate score. Forward Mike Ambersley picked up the assist, as he put the ball past Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel and layed it off to Antoniuk for the goal. With the 3-3 aggregate score the game went into extra time a man down as Rowdies midfielder Shane Hill was sent off in the 90th minute.
"We've had adversity throughout different times of the season and the players were able to overcome it onces again," said Rowdies Head Coach Ricky Hill. "I've always told the players to keep a strong mind and to not give up on our style of play no matter what. I couldn't be prouder of the guys for their efforts to overcome both Minnesota's goal, as well as to play with a man down for about 30 minutes."
The game went into extra time, where both teams were unable to score the winning goal. As 120 minute couldn’t decide the new champion of the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl, the match would go on to be decided from the penalty spot.
NASL Best XI Attinella saved three of the five Minnesota penalty kick, earning the Rowdies their second franchise NASL Soccer Bowl.
Midfielder Luke Mulholland picked up the Rowdies first chance five minutes into the game, but his shot from 20 yards out was contained by VanOekel. The Rowdies continued to pressure in search of their first goal of the night.
In the 25th minute Cort picked up Savage’s feed from the right flank and as the ball was bouncing he put it past the Minnesota goalkeeper for the 1-0 lead. Cort’s goal put the partial aggregate 2-1, with Minnesota on top.
Tampa Bay continuously looked for the aggregate equalizer with back-to-back chances in the 30th minute. Defender Andres Arango first had a powerful header on goal, but it was sent out for a corner kick by VanOekel. On the ensuing corner kick, forward Mike Ambersley redirected a shot in the box, but once again VanOekel kept the Stars within one goal of the Rowdies.
Attinella came up with a huge save in the 39th minute. Stars forward Simone Bracallelo blasted a free kick from over 30 yards out, but Attinella was well placed and made a great save.
"I was very pleased with the defensive performance, especially since we have had injuries that have made us make several changes over the past couple games," said Hill. "We forced them to take shots from far out, which always helps Jeff's job in the goal. Even with a man down, our defense contained Minnesota and limited their attacking players."
From another Mulholland corner kick, Arango nodded a header down, which Savage turned in at the back post to score his third goal of the season.
On the ensuing play Ibarra carried a ball before laying a through ball to substitute Rodriguez who hammered his first touch past Attinella into the side netting, lifting the Stars into a 3-2 aggregate lead despite the 2-1 deficit on the night.
The Rowdies wouldn’t go away, though, and leading scorer Antoniuk came off the bench to snatch an 85th minute goal that brought the series level on aggregate. Ambersley beat VanOekel to a ball bouncing in the penalty area and looped the ball over the Stars goalkeeper for Antoniuk to tap in.
After a scoreless extra time, the game was decided in penalty kicks. Attinella had made six saves in the match, and added three spectacular saves in penalty kicks, lifting the Rowdies to their 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl.
"This championship proves once again that our style of play is one of the best in the league, if not the best," commented Hill. "The players have worked very hard to achieve this and I could not be prouder of them. I hope that everyone that comes to watch this team enjoys the energy and technical abilities of the squad. I thank all the fans for their continuous support, making Al Lang Stadium a fortress for our team."
The Rowdies 3-1 win in the second leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl Finals extended their unbeaten streak at home to 12, including six wins. This is the second time the Rowdies have been crowned the champions of the NASL Soccer Bowl, with the first one coming in a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers in 1975. Tampa Bay capped off an amazing season where they finished unbeaten in 19 of their last 21 games, ending with a championship performance on Saturday night in the second leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl Finals.
Tampa Bay Rowdies: Carl Cort - 25th minute (assisted by Keith Savage)
Tampa Bay Rowdies: Keith Savage - 51st minute (assisted by Andres Arango)
Minnesota: Lucas Rodriguez - 52nd minute (assisted by Miguel Ibarra)
Tampa Bay: Daniel Antoniuk - 86th minute (assisted by Mike Ambersley)
Tampa Bay (3): Mulholland (goal), Cox (goal), Picault (goal), Cort (saved)
Minnesota (2): Hlavaty (goal), Del Do (saved), Altman (saved), Bracalello (goal), Rodriguez (saved)
Tampa Bay: Mike Ambersley - 26th minute
Minnesota: Justin Davis - 31st minute
Minnesota: Simone Bracalello - 45+ minute
Tampa Bay: Carl Cort - 58th minute
Tampa Bay: Luke Mulholland - 82nd minute
Tampa Bay: Daniel Antoniuk - 90th minute
Tampa Bay: Shane Hill - 90+ minute
GK Jeff Attinella, D Frankie Sanfilippo (Captain), D JP Rodrigues (Raphael Cox 36'), D Daniel Scott, D Andres Arango, M Stuart Campbell (Fafa Picault 59'), M Shane Hill, M Keith Savage (Daniel Antoniuk 81'), M Luke Mulholland, F Carl Cort, F Mike Ambersley
GK Matt VanOekel, D Brian Kallman, D Kyle Altman (Captain), D Connor Tobin, D Justin Davis, M Neil Hlavaty, M Kentaro Takada (Martin Nunez 59'), M Jamie Watson (Lucas Rodriguez 45'), M Miguel Ibarra, F Simone Bracalello, F Amani Walker (Devin Del Do 115')