Tampa Bay Rowdies open Fall season with 2-1 win over Atlanta

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The Rowdies hosted a match against the Atlanta Silverbacks yesterday, Independence Day, to mark the opening on the NASL’s Fall Season.

Of the three goals scored, only one was intentional. Luckily for the home crowd at Al Lang Stadium, it turned out to be the game winner.

Tampa Bay native Darnell King came up from his outside defender spot in the 30th minute to field a lead-pass near the outside of the Silverback’s penalty box. King dribbled back through traffic, towards the middle, near the 18-yard mark, before setting up his left foot. The shot was low and to the right and in the net before the Atlanta goalie got close.

“We’ve been working all week on our outside backs getting forward,” said King post-game. “I got forward, tucked it inside, and pulled the trigger.”

Rowdies forward Corey Hertzog came in with the assist on the play, dishing the ball out from around the top right-center of the box.

“I took a touch and saw Darnell,” said Hertzog of the play. “He took a great shot.”

The goal was a first for King in a Rowdies uniform. The assist was the first of the fall season.

“He’s good at laying it out for you,” said King of his assisting forward. “He received it, I  saw him, had open space, took it and he [Hertzog] played it.”

“To be fair, I might have almost wanted to take that from him,” said Hertzog in jest between selfless with fans after the match. “But I let him shoot, and it was a great finish by him.”

Hertzog added a couple shots on goal himself during the match, as did midfielder Martin Núñez, who actually had three before leaving the match late in the second half.

As for Atlanta, despite loosing the time-of-possession battle and having far less shots on goal, the Silverbacks actually came close to ending the match in a tie.

Two own-goals, one by each team — the first by Atlanta’s Rauwshan McKenzie in the 22nd minute, and the second on a header by Tampa Bay’s Stefan Antonijevic in the 36th minute — led to a 2-1 score by the 90th minute of play.

It was then that Atlanta’s Simon Mensing fired a frozen-rope from just outside the 18-yard box — the potential equalizer. But a diving Matt Pickens, the Rowdies starting goalie who made a name or himself with a handful of heroic late-game saves as a substitute during the Spring Season, made the save, ending any Atlanta hopes for draw.

The win catapults the Rowdies to the number one spot in the NASL Fall Season standings — tied with the Carolina RailHawks. Only three other teams have played so far, however. But the 3 points earned by the Rowdies with their 2-1 Fourth of July victory will be beneficial in the long run. The Spring Season champs, the New York Cosmos, only averaged 2 points per game throughout the 2015 season.

The Rowdies will travel west for their next match, a Saturday, July 11, showdown in San Antonio against the Scorpions. The Rowdies waxed the Scorpions last time they met, beating them 3-1 during the Spring Season opener back on April 4.

The next Rowdies home game will by July 18, against FC Edmonton.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.