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Rowdies pull exhibition victory out late against Tampa Spartans

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Okay, give the Tampa Bay Rowdies more MLS competition.

These college kids are just too tough.

The Rowdies took a 1-0 victory in an exhibition game against the University of Tampa Spartans, scoring in the 89th minute to take the win. Trialist Martin Paterson scored the game’s only goal in the final minute.

“We played in some difficult conditions tonight,” Rowdies’ coach Stuart Campbell said. “It’s windy and the pitch is bobbly, but the guys just kept going. We had loads and loads of possession but didn’t quite capitalize on it until the end.”

There are now three weeks and just two matches left before Tampa Bay opens the 2017 United Soccer League regular season.

Paterson’s goal, which took a slight deflection before beating the Spartans goalkeeper, was assisted by Alex Morrell.

“UT sat very, very deep and let us have the ball,” Campbell said. “I spoke to the team at halftime to tell them we’re going to come up against this at times during the season when opponents just sit off and let us have the ball but make it hard for us to break them down, so we have to keep moving the ball quick and find a way through. I’m happy with the way the guys kept going. It would have been easy for the guys to let the game wither away and finish 0-0, but the guys had so much drive to not let that happen.”

Tampa Bay dominated possession and nearly the entire match was played in the Spartans’ end, but the Rowdies weren’t sharp enough in front of goal to put the match out of reach until very late.

Tampa Bay’s remaining preseason schedule includes matches against the Jacksonville Armada next Saturday night and then Miami FC on March 18. Both matches will be played away from home.

“It was a strange game, but I think we stayed on track for the regular season,” Campbell said. “They were very compact and solid and they protected their goalkeeper very well. I have to give a lot of credit to (UT Coach) Adrian Bush because that’s the best UT team we’ve come up against and we play them just about every year.”

The Rowdies’ lineup featured just eight signed players, joined by trialists Akira Fitzgerald and Kyle Porter, plus training player Zack Hamm. Fitzgerald played the full 90 minutes and kept a clean sheet.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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