ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 1, 2016) — The first of two showdown meetings with Miami FC in the coming weeks ended in a 1-1 stalemate at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night.
The match was loaded with postseason implications, with the Rowdies and Miami FC tied on points one point behind Minnesota United FC for fourth place in the NASL Combined Standings. The Rowdies and Miami FC picked up a point with the draw, pulling even on points with Minnesota, which lost 1-0 at home to the Jacksonville Armada FC.
Tampa Bay led for most of the match after Eric Avila’s 31st minute goal, but Miami FC’s Rhett Bernstein equalized for the visitors in the 74th minute to tie the match up at 1-1.
The stage was set for a colossal battle and Saturday night’s showdown didn’t disappoint. It was an edgy affair throughout in front of an electric crowd of 6,912 in downtown St. Petersburg.
“It’s a tough point against Miami FC, a very good team,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “I felt we did enough to win the game. We knew how big this was. You could sense the importance of the game because the atmosphere and intensity in the building. You could sense the anticipation and the excitement coming into the game.”
After an evenly-matched opening half hour, Avila’s fourth goal of the season put the Rowdies ahead.
The goal was the result of a blistering move forward, with the Rowdies going forward in numbers.
Georgi Hristov was fed the ball on the left side of the penalty area and passed it across the top of the 18-yard box to Avila cutting in from the right. Avila took a few touches to set himself up for the shot and then ripped a left-footed shot past Miami FC goalkeeper Daniel Vega for a 1-0 lead.
“In training, I’ve been working on coming in from the right onto my left foot,” Avila said. “I’m happy it went in. … It was a really intense match. I think the first 15 minutes were intense as we tried to figure each other out. Toward the end, I think we were both really tired and things opened up.”
The Rowdies’ lead held deep into the second half, though Miami FC slowly built momentum and confidence from the 60-minute mark onward.
In the 71st minute, a chaotic moment in the Rowdies’ 6-yard box saw Tampa Bay fail to clear the ball and eventually Miami’s Rhett Bernstein made the Rowdies pay, poking it past Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens from a few yards out to tie the match.
Rowdies forward Carlos Preciado had the best chance to break the deadlock, but fell just a few feet short of a go-ahead goal in the 81st minute, chipping Vega and putting his shot on target, but Miami FC defender Mason Trafford made a heroic goal line clearance in a dramatic moment.
The Rowdies now have a quick turnaround before hosting Minnesota United FC on Wednesday night in another huge match.
“We’re back in training tomorrow, so after that, this match is gone,” Campbell said. “We can’t change this result tonight, but we’re disappointed because we wanted to win.”
Tampa Bay’s match against Minnesota United FC kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night. For tickets, call (727) 222-2000 or click here.
Tampa Bay: Eric Avila (assisted by Georgi Hristov) - 31st minute
Miami: Rhett Bernstein - 74th minute
Rowdies (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, D Tamika Mkandawire (c), D Stefan Antonijevic (Neill Collins 42'), D PC; M Martin Vingaard, M Justin Chavez, M Eric Avila, M Joe Cole, M Georgi Hristov; F Carlos Preciado
Miami FC (4-4-2): GK Daniel Vega; D Hunter Freeman, D Rhett Bernstein, D Mason Trafford, D Gabriel Farfan; M Michael Lahoud (Calvin Rezende 13'), M Richie Ryan, M Kwadwo Poku, M Jonny Steele; F Enzo Rennella, F Dario Cvitanich (c)