ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 25, 2017) — An electric crowd saw the Tampa Bay Rowdies get their USL era off to a perfect start as the home team sent Orlando City B home empty-handed after a 1-0 Rowdies win.
Hristov’s penalty kick in the 57th minute opened the season in style as the Rowdies (1-0-0, 3 points) dominated Orlando City B (0-0-1, 0 points) in a match far more lopsided than the scoreline indicates.
“It was a big game with a big atmosphere and my players came good tonight,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “I’m delighted for Georgi because he worked his absolute socks off and if anyone deserved a goal tonight, it’s him.”
In front of an Al Lang Stadium-record crowd of 7,710, the Rowdies put on a show.
“It was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Hristov said. “I think everyone realizes that out organization is trying to do something big for Tampa Bay, so I appreciate everyone coming out to support us.”
Tampa Bay dominated the stats sheet in shots, (21-3) and corner kicks (7-2) in a match that it deserved to win by multiple goals.
If not for a great performance by Orlando City goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr., the Rowdies could’ve run up the score. Edwards had four saves on the night.
The Rowdies were on the front foot from the start, fueled by an emotional atmosphere on opening night, though it took a while to click into gear.
Tampa Bay’s first chance came in the 18th minute when Rowdies debutant Marcel Schäfer won a corner kick with a deflected shot. Michael Nanchoff’s delivery made its way to Georgi Hristov at the back post, but he couldn’t steer his effort on target.
Schäfer was at the heart of the attack again in the 24th minute, firing a shot that Edwards saved. The goalkeeper gave up a rebound that Leo Fernandes nearly pounced on for a tap-in, only for it to be cleared by a defender at the last second.
Just after the half hour mark, Joe Cole nearly put Tampa Bay ahead with a wicked free kick from just outside the box, but it didn’t curl far enough and breezed just past the far post.
Hristov really should’ve given the Rowdies the lead in the 39th minute when he rounded Edwards and had a free look at goal, but Edwards recovered quickly to smother the shot.
The Rowdies finally took their well-deserved lead in the 57th minute after Fernandes split two defenders and raced into the box all alone. Edwards had no choice but to come off his line and tripped Fernandes, conceding a penalty.
Hristov converted the penalty and gave the Rowdies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I’m happy to have scored the goal on an important night for the Rowdies,” Hristov said. “We played really well tonight and should’ve won by more, so I’m proud of the way all my teammates played. There’s things we can do better, but this is a good start.”
Cole nearly chipped Edwards from an angle in the 78th minute, but the goalkeeper backpedaled just enough to palm the ball over the crossbar, ruining what would have been a stunning goal.
The win was the Rowdies’ first in a home opener since the 2012 season and maintained their unbeaten record in home openers in the modern era, which now stands at 3-0-5 (W-L-T).
Tampa Bay is back in action next weekend when it hosts Toronto FC II at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, April 1. Tickets to that match are available by calling (727) 222-2000 or by clicking here.
Rowdies XI (4-2-3-1): GK Akira Fitzgerald; D Darnell King, Damion Lowe, Neill Collins, Luke Boden; M Martin Vingaard, Marcel Schäfer; M Michael Nanchoff, Joe Cole (c) (Justin Chavez 90'), Leo Fernandes; F Georgi Hristov (Alex Morrell (90+')
Orlando City B XI (4-5-1): GK Earl Edwards Jr.; D Kevin Alston (Zach Carroll 64'), Conor Donovan, Tommy Redding, PC; M Lewis Neal (c), Paul Clowes, Danny Deakin (Austin Martz 83'), Pierre Da Silva, Richie Laryea (Albert Dikwa 71'); F Michael Cox