ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 19, 2017) — Saturday night’s USL Eastern Conference Quarterfinal clash against FC Cincinnati could be decided a matchup pitting one of the best scorers in the league against one of its most notable goalkeepers.
Tampa Bay Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov has a history of scoring in big games in his five years with the Rowdies, but he's never before played in a postseason match.
Tasked with stopping Hristov and the Rowdies’ attack will be FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, who topped all goalkeepers with 100 saves in the USL regular season. Despite the century of saves, Hildebrandt’s stats aren’t too dissimilar to Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who made 68 saves. Hildebrandt has actually conceded 12 more goals than Pickens and kept two fewer clean sheets.
Hildebrandt, the 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year, made headlines this season for his successes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, keeping clean sheets against the Columbus Crew SC, Chicago Fire and Miami FC before ultimately falling to the New York Red Bulls. Hildebrandt was the hero of the penalty shootout victory over Chicago.
Games Played: 30
Games Started: 26
Shots On Target: 21
In his fifth season since joining Tampa Bay, Hristov has become synonymous with the Rowdies. His 144 appearances and 51 goals are both Modern Era club records.
Hristov has a habit of scoring big goals for the Rowdies and stepping up when the team needs a goal most. He's scored in his last two matches, running his team-high tally to 13 this season.
The Bulgarian started the season in blistering form, scoring a game-winning penalty against Orlando City B in the season opener and then scoring in each of the Rowdies' next two matches to make it three goals in three games to start the year.
After scoring on the road against Charlotte on August 4, Hristov went into a bit of a slump. He wouldn't scored again for more than two months, but when he broke the drought on August 13 against Saint Louis FC, he did so emphatically, scoring four goals in four games including a brace on the road in a 3-2 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Hristov has tended to be a streaky scorer this season, which bodes well with three goals in his last five games heading into the USL Cup Playoffs. He has one goal in three career matches against Cincinnati.
Games Played: 31
Games Started: 31
Goals Conceded: 47
Goals Against Average: 1.52
Penalties Saved: 3
Hildebrandt has played all but one match for Alan Koch's this season, but he hasn't quite lived up to the form that won him the USL Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2016.
The stats show he a league-high 100 saves, but that indicates he faced more shots than any goalkeeper would want to face. In comparison, Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens faced just 103 shots all season, conceding 35 goals for a save percentage of 66 percent. Hildebrandt's save percentage is slightly higher, at 68 percent, but facing more shots means he conceded 47 goals.
Hildebrandt kept seven clean sheets this season, but where he really excelled was against penalty kicks. He made three penalty saves in the regular season and made a name for himself in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with four clean sheets in five matches as Cincinnati advanced all the way to the semifinals.
In a penalty shootout against the Chicago Fire, Hildebrandt saved three of fours penalties he faced, denying Nemanja Nikolic, Arturo Alvarez and Juninho to advance.
Hildebrandt has played against the Rowdies a total of seven times in his career for Cincinnati and Minnesota United FC, keeping just one clean sheet and conceding a total of 12 goals.