On the night that Georgi Hristov became the new record holder for most appearances for the modern Tampa Bay Rowdies, Georgi Hristov did what Georgi Hristov does best.
Hristov scored the first goal of the night as the Rowdies knocked Louisville City FC from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 2-0 win in front of 5,410 fans at Al Lang Stadium.
Hristov entered the match tied with Takuya Yamada on 120 official appearances for the Rowdies and entered the match in the 53rd minute to take sole possession at the top of the record book.
His entrance changed the whole tone of the match and it didn’t take long for the Bulgarian — who also holds the Modern Era scoring record — to put his team ahead.
Just six minutes after entering the match, Hristov received the ball on the left wing and cut in on his right foot before launching a picture-perfect right-footed shot that curled around Louisville goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski and into the side netting to put Tampa Bay ahead.
It was Hristov’s team-high fourth goal of the season and his 42nd as a member of the Rowdies.
“I knew I was going to make an impact,” Hristov said. “I know it sounds a little bit cocky, but I felt that way. I wasn’t sure if I was going to score a goal, but I really believed I had to make an impact because we needed it. … It was a great win against, what I personally think, is one of the best teams in the league.”
Deshorn Brown would double Tampa Bay’s lead in the 72nd minute, collecting a masterful pass from Joe Cole and beating Dobrowolski one-on-one to score his third goal of the season.
The win is Tampa Bay’s fifth in six home matches this season. It was the Rowdies’ sixth clean sheet in nine games. Prior to Hristov’s goal, Louisville hadn’t trailed a match all season.
“Georgi is a top-drawer player,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with him and we’re fortunate to have him in our ranks because he could play at the very highest level.”
It was a quiet first half for both sides, with just two total shots on goal in the opening 45 minutes, both for the Rowdies.
In the second half, the Rowdies were clearly the much better side.
Nearly from the moment Hristov entered the match, Tampa Bay piled the pressure on Louisville.
“In the second half, we felt opportunities would arise because they couldn’t keep pressuring us at the level they were,” Campbell said. “It was nice to get a result against (Louisville.) They took three points off us in the first game and we spoke about how we wanted to get those points back.”
A pair of back-to-back corner kicks in the 55th minute saw both Darwin Jones and Joe Cole have shots saved by Dobrowolski.
Louisville’s best scoring chance of the night came in the 70th minute when Kyle Smith put a header on target from point-blank range, but Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens got down quickly to make the save at his left-hand post. It was Louisville’s only shot on target all night.
The win saw the Rowdies keep pace with the Charleston Battery atop the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay sits in second place with 17 points, two behind Charleston.
For now, though, the Rowdies will turn their focus toward the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which begins Tuesday night for Tampa Bay. The Rowdies host Jacksonville Armada FC U23 in the second round at Al Lang. For free tickets, call (727) 308-5203 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tampa Bay will be back in league action next Friday tonight, when it visits Toronto FC II. The Rowdies’ next home USL game is May 27 against Saint Louis FC.
Rowdies: Georgi Hristov – 59th minute (Assisted by Joe Cole)
Rowdies: Deshorn Brown – 72nd minute (Assisted by Joe Cole)
Rowdies: Darnell King – 46th minute
Rowdies: Damion Lowe – 70th minute
Rowdies: Neill Collins – 73rd minute
Rowdies: Marcel Schäfer – 78th minute
Louisville: Paco Craig – 87th minute
Rowdies: Matt Pickens – 89th minute
Rowdies XI (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, Damion Lowe, Neill Collins, Marcel Schäfer; M Justin Chavez, Martin Vingaard; M Darwin Jones, Joe Cole (c)(Michael Nanchoff 89′), Leo Fernandes (Georgi Hristov 53′); F Deshorn Brown (Martin Paterson 78′)
Louisville City FC XI (4-2-3-1): GK Tim Dobrowolski; D Kyle Smith, Sean Totsch, Paco Craig, Oscar Jimenez; M Guy Abend, Paolo DelPiccolo (c); M Brian Ownby (Cameron Lancaster 71′), George Davis IV (Ilija Ilic 79′), Mark Anthony Kaye (Richard Ballard 65′); F Luke Spencer.