ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 25, 2018) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies continued their hot start to the USL regular season Saturday night, overcoming a bit of adversity to beat Bethlehem Steel FC 2-0 at Al Lang Stadium to pick up their second win in two matches to start the season.
Georgi Hristov and Leo Fernandes scored within six minutes of one another in the second half to carry the Rowdies to victory.
Here’s Three Things from a successful home opener.
1. Home sweet home
Last season, the Rowdies were nearly unbeatable at Al Lang Stadium, posting 11 wins, four draws and only one loss in 15 regular season contests. This year, the goal is to be even better in downtown St. Petersburg.
Things are off to a good start after an absolutely electric night at Al Lang in the 2018 home opener. A crowd of 7,368 joined the Rowdies and provided an incredible atmosphere from start to finish.
“(The players) just love playing in this stadium in front of the fans,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “The fans are great. They support us in a great, great way and we appreciate it.”
Saturday’s win extends the Rowdies’ unbeaten record in home openers in the Modern Era. Tampa Bay is now 4-0-5 in those matches.
2. Two is the magic number
Tampa Bay scored two goals in Saturday night’s match and won by two. The Rowdies have now played two matches in the regular season and have two wins. Both wins were by a two-goal margin. This is the second time the Rowdies have started a season with two wins in two matches. The first time was last season.
Georgi Hristov and Leo Fernandes each scored their second goal of the season in the win over Bethlehem last night. With three more points in their pocket, the Rowdies moved up to No. 2 in the early Eastern Conference Standings, just behind Charlotte on goal difference.
Need one more two to believe that two is the magic number? Georgi Hristov is now just two goals shy of tying Derek Smethurst’s all-time Rowdies scoring record.
3. Beating Bethlehem
Saturday night was the first time the Rowdies have found a way to beat Bethlehem. Both meetings last season were contentious and both ended in draws.
After earning their first playoff berth last season, the Steel FC looks like it will be competitive once again in 2018. Bethlehem posted a 4-1 win over Richmond on opening weekend, a statement of intent for this year.
Head Coach Brendan Burke’s starting lineup against the Rowdies included six players signed to Major League Soccer contracts with the Philadelphia Union, who were on a bye week this weekend. Those players were John McCarthy, Derrick Jones, Anthony Fontana, Marcus Epps, Fabian Herbers and Cory Burke.
McCarthy and Fontana were opening day starters for the Union earlier this month, with Burke and Jones both entering the match off the bench.
With all those Philadelphia Union first-teamers on the field at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night, the Rowdies’ win may end up looking even better by the end of the season.