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Tampa Bay Rowdies’ offense comes to life in big victory over Puerto Rico

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Finally, the Tampa Bay Rowdies have discovered the back of the net. Finally, they have some goals worth celebrating.

The Rowdies won their biggest game of the season Saturday night, beating Puerto Rico 3-0 at Al Lang Stadium. It was the first time all season Tampa Bay scored more than two goals, and only the third time all year it had scored more than one (in 13 games).

Even more impressive were highlight-film goals from Joe Cole and Eric Avila. Tommy Heinemann scored the third goal in extra time.

“It’s important that we got three points to bounce back from last week,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “I think there’s a couple of ‘Goal of the Season’ contenders there and I feel bad for Eric. He had a fantastic goal. … I think Joe is going to get a bit of coverage — and quite rightly so.”

Cole’s goal, in the 10th minute, was one of the finest in the NASL this season. He bicycled the ball from 15 yards out that looped over Puerto Rico goalie David Meves and into the net to give the Rowdies an early lead.

“It was nice,” Cole said. “It’s always nice to score the first goal in a game and it was a lovely goal. It’ll be a nice one to watch and send home for everyone to watch, but the main thing is that the team was excellent tonight.

“Sometimes, those goals are instinct. They’re the goals you do as kids. I still love playing football.”

The Rowdies’ second goal came when Avila received the ball from Georgi Hristov 22 yards from goal and turned to face the net before casually bending it around Meves and tucking into the upper corner.

“It was a nice goal,” Avila said. “Just not as nice as Joe’s was.”

For the Rowdies, it was a nice way to bounce back after a 4-1 loss to Carolina.

Tampa Bay is home again Saturday against the New York Cosmos.

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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