CARY, N.C. (July 9, 2016) – The absence of Neill Collins and Tamika Mkandawire on the Tampa Bay Rowdies back line was felt in Carolina on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay asked veterans Stefan Antonijevic and Frankie Sanfilippo to step in and replace the pair of injured centerbacks but both were called for fouls that led to penalty kicks in the Rowdies’ 4-1 loss to the RailHawks.
““[We’re] obviously disappointed with the result,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “Obviously to lose 4-1, it’s a big signal for us.”
Both Collins and Mkandawire had played every minute of the NASL Fall Season, but injuries sustained in last weekend’s Spring Season opener left them unavailable for the match.
From the opening whistle, the RailHawks, who hadn’t won a league match since April, took full advantage of the crippled Tampa Bay defense.
“We knew [Collins and Mkandawire] were going to be big misses for us,” Campbell said. “Defensively we’ve been very good this season and they’ve been a big component of that. We still shouldn’t concede four goals.”
Things started early when the 11th minute a Nazmi Albadawi corner found the head of Matt Fondy who beat Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens to give the hosts an early lead.
It didn’t take long for the Rowdies to equalize, however.
Eric Avila was fouled just inches inside the Carolina box giving the Rowdies a chance at a penalty kick. Georgi Hristov stepped up to take it and beat Carolina goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre with a shot to the lower left corner of the net. Hristov is 2-for-2 on PKs this season after converting an attempt against Miami FC back in April.
With the match tied once more, the RailHawks settled in and began peppering Pickens with shots, not giving the Rowdies a chance to attack.
In the 32nd minute, a through ball gave Matt Watson a dangerous chance but Pickens came off his line to make a sliding stop. Nine minutes later, Pickens made his best save of the night, a reaction save on a one-touch shot from Brian Shriver just inside the 6-yard box.
Where Pickens bailed out the Rowdies with big saves in the first half, there wasn’t much he could do in the final 45 minutes.
High pressure from Carolina eventually led to their first PK of the match early in the second half. Antonijevic was whistled for a foul on Fondy inside the Tampa Bay box in the 55th minute. Shriver took the penalty for Carolina and, despite a correct guess from Pickens, converted to give the RailHawks a lead they would not relinquish.
“I thought that was very close,” Campbell said. “I thought Stefan got a touch on the ball. I thought that was a very hard decision to make by the referee.”
Four minutes later, the onslaught of penalties continued as a sliding Sanfilippo grazed the ball with his hand giving the RailHawks another PK. Albadawi stepped to the spot on this occasion and gave Carolina some insurance.
With the two-goal deficit, Tampa Bay pushed men forward, however, that left them exposed at the back leading to Carolina’s fourth goal of the match. Albadawi walked right through the Rowdies defense and let loose a shot from the top of the box that glanced off the left post and in.
Meanwhile Tampa Bay couldn’t get anything going offensively in the second half, failing to generate many dangerous looks on goal, as they fall to 0-1-1 (W-T-L) early in the Fall Season.
The Rowdies will have a pair of home matches the next two weeks to turn things around. Tampa Bay will host expansion side Puerto Rico FC on the 16th and then the New York Cosmos on the 23rd at Al Lang Stadium. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.
Carolina: Matt Fondy – 11th minute (assisted by Nazmi Albadawi)
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov – 20th minute (penalty kick)
Carolina: Brian Shriver – 55th minute (penalty kick)
Carolina: Nazmi Albadawi – 59th minute (penalty kick)
Carolina: Nazmi Albadawi – 71st minute
Tampa Bay: Juan Guerra – 22nd minute
Carolina: Aly Hassan – 85th minute
Tampa Bay XI: GK Matt Pickens (c); D Darnell King, Frankie Sanfilippo, Stefan Antonijevic, Walter Ramirez; M Junior Burgos, Juan Guerra (Tommy Heinemann 63′), Joe Cole (Freddy Adu 71′); F Eric Avila (Michael Nanchoff 63′), Georgi Hristov, Kalif Alhassan
Carolina XI: GK Brian Sylvestre; D Drew Beckie, James Marcelin, Simon Mensing, Kareem Moses; M Matt Watson, Nazmi Albadawi (c); M Tiyi Shipalane (Marvin Ceballos 68′), Brian Shriver (Steven Miller 78′), Austin Da Luz; F Matt Fondy (Aly Hassan 82′)