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Goalie Matt Pickens stops penalty kick to lead Rowdies’ victory

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The clock was all but dead. The game, however, was still in the balance.

And Matt Pickens came through.

Pickens stopped a penalty shot in the dying seconds of Saturday night’s game, enabling the Tampa Bay Rowdies to win a 1-0 game over Edmonton. It was Tampa Bay’s first victory of the year after two draws.

Officials had called a hand ball on Neill Collins in extra time, allowing Edmonton one final chance to get a tie. But Pickens dove to his right to knock Tomi Ameobi’s shot away just before the final buzzer.

“I just try to be calm (when facing penalties),” Pickens said. “There are some little triggers that I try and read in people as they approach the ball. I kind of saw a trigger that told me where (Ameobi) was going to go. … I’m just glad I held onto it and didn’t give up a rebound or anything stupid like that where they pump it back in and score. I grabbed it, stood up and the whistle. I was like, ‘Cool, game over.’ It was great.”

A couple of times a week, Pickens stays after practice and works on facing penalty kicks. He looks for what he calls “triggers,” or tendencies, to stop such shots.

“Matt is a bit of a penalty specialist,” said Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell. “The guys practice a lot of penalties on him and he saves more than he concedes. He’s just got that knack of reading players. I fancied Matt’s chances of saving that tonight. I’d be lying if I said I stood on the sideline as Mr. Cool, for a minute I did think, ‘Yikes.’”

The Rowdies held a 1-0 lead, its first lead of the season, on a header by  Tom Heinemann on a pass from Eric Avila.

Funny. Heinemann tells the story of playing as a 9-year-old and getting hit in the head and knocked out. It intimidated him, and he didn’t work on his headers until he was 16 and grew.

This time, it was perfect. It was Heinemann’s first goal for Tampa Bay.

“It was an instance where we were continuing to pressure their goal and put chances together,” Heinemann said. “The ball got swung out wide to Eric Avila and I tried to lose my man in the box. He put in a perfect ball. I can’t say much more than that. It was just a perfect ball and I got my noggin on it.”

The Rowdies are home again Saturday to play against Carolina.

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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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