The Tampa Bay Rowdies advanced to their first NASL Soccer Bowl Finals since their return to professional soccer in 2010 after defeating the Carolina RailHawks 5-4 on aggregate in the NASL Semifinals. The Rowdies first traveled to Carolina, defeating the RailHawks 2-1 in the first leg on October 6th and then played to a 3-3 draw at Al Lang Stadium in the second leg on October 13.
In the other semifinal matchup, defending champions Minnesota Stars FC played to a 0-0 draw at home against the Regular Season Champion San Antonio Scorpions in the first leg. The Stars would go on to defeat the Scorpions in the second leg 2-1, advancing to their second straight finals on an aggregate score of 2-1.
Minnesota hosted the first leg of the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl Finals on Saturday, October 20 at NSC Stadium in Blaine, Minnesota. The Rowdies were able to hold off Minnesota in the early minutes, as the home team came out to pressure Tampa Bay. After the initial push from the Stars,Tampa Bay was able to pick up their momentum 20 minutes into the match, and dominate the rest of the half.
Tampa Bay played the second half under the attacking pressure of the Stars, who opened the scoring in the 67th minute, when Walker’s shot from 18 yards out blasted into the top left corner of the net after receiving a pass from forward Simone Bracalello. 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.
Being down 2-0 on aggregate, the Rowdies looked to turn the series around at Al Lang Stadium, where they had just lost once during the regular season. The Rowdies took the field in front of a sellout crowd of 6,208, knowing they had to win by at least two goals if they wanted the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy to stay in Tampa Bay.
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.
The Rowdies would have several great opportunities in the first half, with the home team dominating and dictating the pace of the match. Tampa Bay made it 2-0 in the 51st minute after NASL Best XI midfielder Luke Mulholland delivered a corner kick to the far end of the box, where defender Andres Arango nodded a header down to midfielder Keith Savage. The midfielder deflected Arango’s header and put it into the back of the net, leveling the aggregate at 2-2.
The excitement of the Rowdies second goal soon came to a halt, as a minute later Stars midfielder Miguel Ibarra placed a through ball to substitute Lucas Rodriguez. The midfielder first-timed it past Rowdies goalkeeper 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 and leading scorer forward Daniel Antoniuk came off the bench to snatch an 85th minute goal that brought the series level on aggregate. Forward Mike Ambersley beat Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel to a ball bouncing in the penalty area and looped the ball over the Stars goalkeeper for Antoniuk to tap in.
Rowdies midfielder Shane Hill was sent off in the 90th minute, after receiving a straight red card forcing the home side to play a man down the entire 30 minutes of extra time.
After a scoreless extra time, the game was decided in penalty kicks, where NASL Best XI GK Jeff Attinella saved three of the Stars five penalty kicks, leading the Rowdies to their second franchise NASL Soccer Bowl Championship. Attinella’s performance capped his prolific 2012 NASL season, where he led the league in saves in the regular season, and was the only player in the league to receive the NASL Defensive Player of the Week five times.
To watch the first leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl Finals, click here.
To relive the Rowdies historic comeback in the second leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl Finals, click here.