For the first time since 2012, the Tampa Bay Rowdies are headed to the postseason.
The Rowdies clinched their spot in the USL Cup Playoffs and moved up to second place in the Eastern Conference standings with a 3-2 win over New York Red Bulls II on Wednesday night at Al Lang Stadium.
A goal from Joe Cole and a brace from Marcel Schäfer booked Tampa Bay’s ticket to the postseason.
“We played really, really well,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “(We were) very assured in possession and created lots and lots of chances. It was a good game to watch in fairness.”
While it ended as a great night for the Rowdies, it didn’t start perfectly, with New York’s Stefano Bonomo giving the visitors a 1-0 lead in just the 16th minute of play.
As they’ve done time and time again this season, Tampa Bay (13-10-7, W-T-L, 49 points) showed the resilience to regroup after conceding and take back control of the match quickly.
Just two minutes after falling behind, the Rowdies pulled even with Schäfer feeding Cole for the quick equalizer to make it 1-1.
Seven minutes after that, in the 25th minute, Schäfer played a give-and-go with Georgi Hristov that led the German into the box for a low finish past Red Bulls goalkeeper Rafael Diaz.
Nine minutes after conceding the opening goal, the Rowdies led 2-1.
“I thought we started the game in a very, very positive manner,” Campbell said. “Straight from kickoff, I think we set the standard very high, so when they scored, I wasn’t overly worried. The guys didn’t worry. They didn’t panic. They’re a good group of players, they all believe in each other and have confidence in each other and that shined through tonight.”
In the 45th minute, Schäfer unleashed a rocket to the upper 90 to put Tampa Bay up 3-1 and give the home team a confidence boost heading into the halftime break.
“It was our target that today we would clinch the playoffs and we did it,” Schäfer said. “We did a great job today. The whole team did a great job. We worked hard and now we’re in the playoffs.”
New York (12-5-13, 41 points) cut its deficit to 3-2 in the 54th minute via a Junior Flemmings goal, but that would prove to be New York’s final positive for the evening.
In the 63rd minute, Red Bulls defender Jordan Scarlett was dismissed from the match with his second yellow card and the Rowdies were able to close the match out professionally.
The win, Tampa Bay’s 11th at home this season, set a new Modern Era club record for longest home unbeaten run at 13 games. Eleven home wins is also a new Modern Era record.
With two matches to play in the regular season, the Rowdies are now in second place, one point ahead of both the Charleston Battery and Charlotte Independence.
The Rowdies will head out on the road for their next two matches, visiting San Antonio FC on Saturday night and then ending the regular season against Orlando City B on Thursday, October 12.
Tampa Bay will open the USL Cup Playoffs the weekend of October 20-22. Should the Rowdies open the playoffs at home, the match would be played Saturday, October 21.
New York: Stefano Bonomo – 16th minute (assisted by Vincent Bezecourt)
Tampa Bay: Joe Cole – 18th minute (assisted by Marcel Schäfer)
Tampa Bay: Marcel Schäfer – 25th minute (assisted by Georgi Hristov)
Tampa Bay: Marcel Schäfer – 45th minute (assisted by Joe Cole)
New York: Junior Flemmings – 54th minute (assisted by Arun Basiljevic)
Tampa Bay: Martin Vingaard – 23rd minute
New York: Jordan Scarlett – 50th minute
New York: Jordan Scarlett – 62nd minute
New York: Junior Flemmings – 84th minute
Rowdies XI (4-3-3): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, Hunter Gorskie, Neill Collins, Zac Portillos; M Martin Vingaard, Joe Cole (c)(Keith Savage 86′), Marcel Schäfer; F Alex Morrell (Darwin Jones 76′), Sebastian Guenzatti (Walter Restrepo 90′), Georgi Hristov
New York XI (4-3-3): GK Rafael Diaz (c); D Ethan Kutler, Tim Schmoll, Jordan Scarlett, David Abidor; M Kazu Shigenobu (Florian Valot 84′), Arun Basuljevic, Vincent Bezecourt; F Zeiko Lewis (David Najem 68′), Stefano Bonomo (Ben Mines 75′), Junior Flemmings