ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 18, 2016) — With just three games to go in the North American Soccer League regular season, Tampa Bay Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov knows how small the margin for error is.
The Rowdies trail Minnesota United FC and Rayo OKC by three points in the Combined Standings, but have the benefit of a game in hand. Should the Rowdies win that match — which will be played at home Wednesday night against the Indy Eleven — it would force a three-way tie for fourth place and the final spot in The Championship, the NASL’s four-team playoffs.
Hristov isn’t shy about the pressure the Rowdies face and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think pressure can only make you a better player,” Hristov said. “When you’re under pressure, you rely more on your instincts and that makes you much better. I’ve had games where I felt relaxed with no pressure and I’ve not played well. I’m positive the best games I’ve ever played were when I was under the most pressure.”
If the Rowdies are to secure a playoff berth in the coming weeks, Hristov is likely to play a huge role in getting Tampa Bay across the line.
The 31-year old Bulgarian has been at the center of the Rowdies’ attack since joining Tampa Bay ahead of the 2013 NASL season. In his nearly-four seasons with the club, he’s established himself as one of the most dangerous attackers in the league.
With 33 NASL goals to his name, he sits fourth all-time in the league record books as a scorer. He’s the modern NASL’s all-time assist leader with 25 assists. He’s played in 104 NASL games, meaning he either scores or records an assist in more than half of his appearances. Add in his four U.S. Open Cup goals and Hristov’s 37 goals are the most in modern Rowdies history, ahead of Mike Ambersley’s 22.
“As forwards, we’re the players that people talk about most because we score the goals, but we can’t do anything without our teammates,” Hristov said. “Every goal is a credit to the entire team and the club itself, not just the player that scored it. I really appreciate what the club has done for me and my teammates. I feel happy, but I just have to keep working even harder than before.”
Hristov’s 10 goals this season lead the Rowdies. He’s scored five goals in his last five appearances, including notching the first hat trick in modern Rowdies history in a 4-1 road win over the rival Fort Lauderdale Strikers on September 24.
He’s on pace to finish the season as the Rowdies’ leading scorer for the third time in his four seasons with the club. After a down year in 2015, when he scored only two goals, Hristov has shown resiliency to bounce back strong this season.
“A lot of credit goes to the coaches,” Hristov said. “You can only play well if the coaching staff understands your natural strengths and puts you in the right positions. I’m very thankful that (Coach Campbell) trusts me and gives me freedom to play how I play.”
Hristov is one of just two Rowdies to feature in every match this year, starting 22 of his 29 league games this season. Twelve of his 22 starts have been as a central striker, but even when he’s deployed in a wide position, Hristov tends to find a path to goal. Five of his goals this year have been scored when he played as a central striker, four have been from a wide left position and one has come off the bench.
“It takes a lot of dedication on and off the field (to be consistent,)” Hristov said. “It’s all about the stuff people don’t see: proper eating, sleeping, making sure you rest enough. Our whole team is really good about that, but it’s not easy, especially when you have two kids like me. I’m very happy that I’ve been able to stay healthy because of course that’s important, too.”
Tampa Bay's massive match against the Indy Eleven kicks off Wednesday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. Arrive early to take advantage of $2 hot dog and $2 beer specials during Happy Hour from 6 to 7:30. Tickets are available by calling (727) 222-2000 or by clicking here.