ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (September 24, 2017) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies picked up an important 1-0 win over the Charlotte Independence on Saturday in front of a packed crowd at Al Lang Stadium, re-framing the race for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
With the Rowdies’ win and losses by the three teams ahead of them in the standings, the race for seeding is tighter than ever with just a few weeks left in the regular season.
1. Reshaping the table
Tampa Bay came into Saturday in fifth place, on track to begin the playoffs on the road. A tough test awaited with potential No. 2 seed Charlotte visiting St. Petersburg for the first time. Elsewhere, No. 3 Charleston visited Orlando City B and No. 4 Rochester visited lowly Richmond.
The Rowdies’ 1-0 win was a great result on its own, but paired with wins by Orlando and Charleston, it was a perfect night for Tampa Bay.
As it stands Sunday morning, the Rowdies now sit in fourth place, one point ahead of the Rhinos with a game in hand. Looking upward, Charleston and Charlotte are both in touching distance. The Rowdies trail the Independence by four points and the Battery by three points. Tampa Bay has two games in hand on both of those teams.
A Rowdies win Wednesday afternoon against the Bethlehem Steel would go a long way toward securing at least one home playoff game.
2. Hunter’s home debut
Rowdies center back Hunter Gorskie signed with the Rowdies on August 22, but he had to wait until last night to play his first game at Al Lang Stadium in green and gold.
For Gorskie, it was worth the wait.
“It was amazing,” he said of his home debut. “It was electrifying. It was a very amazing atmosphere and I cannot wait to play more games here. The area is amazing, everything is great. The organization is phenomenal and they have made me feel really at home here. I think that contributes to me being able to play well on the field as well.”
Not only did Gorskie get to play in front of a season-high crowd of 7,786, but he also scored the game-winning goal and contributed to a clean sheet. It was Gorskie’s second goal in three appearances for the Rowdies.
3. Matt-y Pick-ens!
In a 1-0 game, the margin of error is razor thin. For much of the second half, it felt like Charlotte was destined to score an equalizer. The Independence seemingly managed to score twice, but both goals was called off for offside.
When the Rowdies needed bailing out, Matt Pickens was there every time. He made four saves to post his eighth clean sheet of the season and first since August 5.
No save was better than this diving save to deny Enzo Martinez a goal on a tremendous shot that seemed certain to go in the upper 90.