ORLANDO, Fla. (October 12, 2017) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies will open up the USL Cup Playoffs at home next weekend after beating Orlando City B 2-0 at Orlando City Stadium on Thursday night.
Georgi Hristov and Sebastian Guenzatti scored in the second half as the Rowdies closed the regular season with a win.
"I thought it was a really, really good performance," Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. "I thought we dominated the game from start to finish. We knew if we kept playing in that manner, the goals would come and I'm really, really happy for the guys that they did come."
The win moved the Rowdies (14-11-7 (W-T-L), 53 points) up to second place in the USL Eastern Conference, guaranteeing at least one home game. Tampa Bay’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal match will be played at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, September 21 with a 7:30 kickoff.
The result eliminated Orlando City B (10-12-10, 42 points) from contention.
After a scoreless first half in which the Rowdies had a slight edge but couldn’t take advantage, the stage was set for a dramatic finale.
Georgi Hristov dealt the first blow in the 74th minute, getting on the end of a Marcel Schäfer cross and heading it in to put Tampa Bay ahead 1-0 with his 13th goal of the season.
"I'm really happy that I scored, but I'm way happier to get a home playoff game," Hristov said. "It wasn't an easy game because they have so much energy, but I think we played so well and showed so much character that we were in control the whole game."
Orlando City B, needing a win to remain in postseason contention, never fully clicked into gear despite its desperate situation, wilting away as quietly.
The home team was out-possessed and out-passed, mustering only two shots on goal. Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens saved both to post his ninth clean sheet of the season and first since September 23.
Apart from a pair of corner kicks in stoppage time — both of which were cleared by the Rowdies — Orlando City B hardly had a chance at an equalizer.
Guenzatti sealed the result deep in stoppage time, forcing Orlando defender Zach Ellis-Hayden into a mistake and earning himself a one-on-one with Orlando’s goalkeeper.
Jake Fenlason raced off his line, but Guenzatti coolly rounded him and tapped the ball into the net in front of a pack of traveling Rowdies fans to put the game on ice.
"It feels amazing," Guenzatti said. "Everyone was 100 percent working for each other and it pays off late in the game. We got the second goal to put the game away in front of the fans that came to watch us play."
With tonight’s result, the Rowdies will finish between second and fourth place, depending on results Saturday.
Tampa Bay will finish second if the Charleston Battery fail to beat the Charlotte Independence in Charlotte, and Rochester fails to beat New York Red Bulls II by nine goals or more.
Stay tuned for postseason ticket information Friday.
Rowdies: Georgi Hristov - 74th minute (Assisted by Marcel Schäfer)
Rowdies - Martin Vingaard - 38th minute
Rowdies - Zac Portillos - 51st minute
Orlando - Pierre Da Silva - 76th minute
Rowdies - Hunter Gorskie - 80th minute
Rowdies XI (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, Hunter Gorskie, Neill Collins, Zac Portillos; M Martin Vingaard, Marcel Schäfer; M Walter Restrepo (Darwin Jones 72'), Joe Cole (c) (Justin Chavez 83'), Georgi Hristov; F Sebastian Guenzatti
Orlando City B XI (4-4-2): GK Jake Fenlason; D Zach Ellis-Hayden, Zach Carroll, Fernando Timbo, Kevin Alston (Ben Polk 78'); M Tony Rocha, Lewis Neal (c), Jordan Schweitzer (Austin Martz 55'), Pierre Da Silva; F Michael Cox, Hadji Barry (Danny Deakin 66')