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Rowdies Matt Pickens again stops penalty kick for victory

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When things are going badly, when things are at the worst, the Tampa Bay Rowdies always have the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to rely on.

Take Saturday night, when the Rowdies won a 2-1 game to break a two game losing (and scoreless) streak. Tampa Bay has a 14-4-6 lead against their rival Strikers.

This one involved going ahead 2-0, then having goalkeeper Matt Pickens save a penalty kick against Jose Angulo in the 89th minute. It was the second such save of the year for Pickens.

“The pressure is on (the offensive players),” Pickens said of his philosophy on facing penalties. “They’re the one who has to score. Sometimes you just need to make a save. When you overthink things you get into trouble sometimes.

“It’s fun (saving penalties). It’s like a forward scoring a goal, it’s the ultimate high. But I can’t run around and celebrate with the fans or anything. I just have to stay in my goal.”

It was a save that prevented the game ending in a tie. Thing is, it isn’t the first time Pickens has salvaged a game that way.

“It’s got to be the hardest thing to do in pro sports,” said Keith Savage, who scored the first goal. “And how many times has he done it? We just have to thank him.”

Savage gave the Rowdies a 1-0 lead just after halftime, taking a cross from Joe Cole that sailed over everyone and landed, pretty much, on his foot.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” Savage said. “The stars aligned and it was meant to be. … I couldn’t believe it came to me. It’s fortunate because I just kind of stood there and it came right to my left foot. I’m thankful it went in.”

Up a pair of goals, the match nearly slipped away from the Rowdies.

“Two-nil is probably the worst score you can have in professional football,” Rowdies coach Stu Campbell said. “Subconsciously, you probably think it’s game over and the opposition really has nothing to lose. They got that one goal and you could see the massive amount of pressure we were under.”

Fort Lauderdale found a lifeline on Angulo’s goal in the 71st minute which cut the Rowdies’ lead in half.

Only a few minutes later, Tamika Mkandawire was whistled for a handball and the Strikers were awarded a penalty shot. Pickens correctly dove to his left-hand side to deny Adrianinho’s spot kick and preserve the Rowdies’ lead.

Said Campbell: “He done great. It’s not the first time I’ve stood here singing his praises. He’s a great character, he’s a great professional and he came up big for us.”

The Rowdies second goal came on a nice pass from Georgi Hristov to Joe Cole.

The Rowdies are on the road the next two weeks, playing New York and Minnesota. The Rowdies have a three-game road losing streak.

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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