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Rowdies Score Extra-Time Winner To Beat Silverbacks 3-2

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Georgi Hristov’s stoppage time header lifted the Tampa Bay Rowdies past the Atlanta Silverbacks 3-2 in the NASL Fall season opener in front of an energetic crowd at Al Lang Stadium. The home side opened the season with three points on the back of a heroic performance from Hristov, the reigning NASL Golden Ball winner.

“It’s absolutely the best way to start the season,” Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. “The three points are vital for us from a confidence perspective. How we got them doesn’t matter now because we have them.”

Neither side could really assert their dominance on the opponent early on in the match. Tampa Bay earned free kicks in dangerous positions but could not find the back of the net. The opening stages of the game were not fluid either, with play interrupted by numerous fouls. 

As time went on, Tampa Bay began to dominate possession and kept the ball in Atlanta's half with the Silverbacks remaining dangerous on the counterattack. Atlanta's first major chance of the game, also happened to be its first goal. In the 27th minute, midfielder Junior Burgos drove down the center of the pitch and drilled a shot into the corner of goalkeeper Matt Pickens' goal from about 30 yards out. He was assisted by captain Blair Gavin.

The Rowdies tried to respond quickly as forward Georgi Hristov saw his shot narrowly miss the crossbar just after the restart. Atlanta's goal proved to be a turning point, as it saw the Silverbacks begin to get more possession of the ball. 

Tampa Bay began trying to claw its way back into the game as Hristov saw his effort from close range deflect safely into Atlanta goalkeeper Derby Carrillo's hands. The Rowdies created another chance to equalize in the 40th minute when midfielder Blake Wagner sent a cross into Atlanta's box which Carrillo spilled to Darel Russell at the top of the box. Russell, however, drove his shot straight at the keeper. 

Atlanta doubled their lead soon after in the 42nd minute when forward Deon McCaulay was played through on goal by midfielder Jesus Gonzalez. McCaulay slipped his shot under a charging Pickens. 

Tampa Bay almost scored in stoppage time off of a Blake Wagner corner kick. The ball was curled to the back post to the head of defender Takuya Yamada, whose header beat the keeper, but was cleared off of the line by an Atlanta defender. 

With the Rowdies down 2-0 at the break, the crowd of 3,896 applauded the team off the field.

“I’ve got to thank the fans for the way they support the team,” Hill said. “We’ve fallen behind at home again and they never give up on us. They never let the players get their head down. Through the effort of the fans, we were able to win. I’m so proud to be able to give the fans that win.”

The second half began as slowly as the first, with neither team really able to create anything offensively. The Rowdies halved Atlanta's lead in the 58th minute on their first chance of the half. Captain Frankie Sanfilippo was played into the box and played a cross on the ground in the direction of forward Casey Townsend. Carrillo managed to get down and stop the cross, but not catch it. Townsend closed in and poked the ball into the net before Carrillo or one of his defenders could react. 

Rowdies defender Tamika Mkandawire was introduced in the 65th minute when he came on in for Takuya Yamada in his club debut.

The Rowdies continued their comeback in the 67th minute when yet another ball was crossed into the box. Shane Hill sent a header towards goal but once again Carrillo could not handle it. The ball bounced around the box some more before Hristov slotted a shot home.

Hristov's goal proved to be yet another turning point in the match. Tampa Bay continued to go forward in search of the go-ahead goal and gained some more possession. Forward Brian Shriver was brought the match for the Rowdies in the 78th minute for Wagner, which signaled a real intent to go ahead in the game.

Atlanta seemed content on absorbing Tampa Bay's pressure and then counterattacking whenever they got an opportunity. In the 88th minute, Carrillo's long goal kick found substitute forward Alex Harlley who controlled the ball and beat two Rowdies defenders and fired a shot at Pickens. The veteran keeper was able to get down and parry the shot out for a corner.

Tampa Bay was inches away from pulling ahead in stoppage time when Hristov was played into the box. The Bulgarian wriggled past a defender before shooting to Carrillo's near post. The keeper saved the shot but conceded a corner in the process.

Substitute midfielder Evans Frimpong took the ensuing corner and curled a ball into the front post. An unmarked Hristov ran and met the ball with a diving header. The Bulgarian forward saw his brace completed in spectacular fashion as the crowd erupted.

“This game is all about mentality and what is going on in your head,” Hristov said. “I just kept telling myself to keep going with 100 percent. I’m very happy that I scored those two goals and helped the team. I wouldn’t have scored those goals without the team.”

Up next, the Rowdies pay a visit to the Indy Eleven before returning home on July 26 to meet the San Antonio Scorpions.

Starting Lineups
Rowdies XI (4-4-2): GK Matt Pickens; D Frankie Sanfilippo (c), JP Rodrigues, Takuya Yamada (Tamika Mkandawire 65'), Anthony Wallace; M Lucky Mkosana (Evans Frimpong 71'), Shane Hill, Darel Russell, Blake Wagner (Brian Shriver 78') ; F Georgi Hristov, Casey Townsend

Silverbacks XI (4-4-2): GK Derby Carrillo; D Borfor Carr, Abdul Bangura, Ramiro Canovas, Mitch Garcia; M Junior Burgos (Alex Harlley 71'), Blair Gavin (Kwadwo Poku 60'), Jesus Gonzalez, Junior Sandoval; F Deon McCaulay (Lucas Paulini 78') , Jaime Chavez

Caution Summary
Tampa Bay: Anthony Wallace- 20th minute
Atlanta: Borfor Carr- 20th minute
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov- 23rd minute
Atlanta: Abdul Bangura- 35th minute
Atlanta: Junior Sandoval- 70th minute
Tampa Bay: Darel Russell- 70th minute

Scoring Summary
Atlanta: Junior Burgos- 27th minute (assisted by Blair Gavin)
Atlanta: Deon McCaulay- 42nd minute (assisted by Jesus Gonzalez)
Tampa Bay: Casey Townsend- 58th minute
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov- 67th minute
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov- 90th minute

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