ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rowdies were bested 3-0 by the rival New York Cosmos on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium as the Rowdies’ two-match unbeaten streak was halted.
In seventeen minutes after the start of the second half, the Cosmos turned a 0-0 match into a lopsided affair with a trio of very quick goals.
Mads Stokkelien opened the scoring in the 48th minute on an assist from Marcos Senna. Rowdies goalkeeper Ryan Thompson rushed out to try and collect the ball before Stokkelien could get his shot off, but the Norwegian fired first, sliding the ball underneath Thompson from a sharp angle to give New York a lead.
The Cosmos’ second goal came just three minutes later, in the 51st minute, when the Rowdies defensive line was caught out and Thompson charged out of his 18-yard box to make a play and committed a foul just on the edge. Thompson was cautioned for the incident, which also gave the Cosmos a free kick. Ayoze and Senna stood over the ball, but it was Ayoze who took the kick, slotting it past the wall and just inside Thompson’s post to double the lead.
New York’s third goal came in the 62nd minute when Paulo Mendes picked the ball off Tampa Bay defender Jay Needham and coolly finished it.
“You cannot legislate for defensive errors,” Hill said. “We’ve conceded three goals tonight. Ryan Thompson has had no shots to save in the second half, yet we’ve conceded three goals. That tells a story. The three goals were avoidable.”
Tampa Bay had its chances in the second half, but couldn’t manage to find the back of the net.
Darel Russell laced a roaring shot from just outside the edge of the box in the 75th minute, forcing New York goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer to punch the ball above the crossbar and out.
Second-half substitutes Evans Frimpong and Lucky Mkosana combined well, with Frimpong hitting side netting in the 76th minute.
As stoppage time neared, Mkosana delivered a nearly-perfect cross across the face of goal to Georgi Hristov, who just missed tapping it home with his head.
Still, the 4,855 fans on hand continued to support the Rowdies.
“For me, the fans were the men and women of the match tonight,” Hill said. “Even when we’re 3-nil down, they persistently supported the team. Regardless of what the scoreline was, they were still chanting and singing and urging us on. All credit to the fans for that.”
The biggest news of the first half was Tampa Bay goalkeeper Matt Pickens exiting the match after only 24 minutes due a quad/thigh injury. Ryan Thompson replaced Pickens, marking the first NASL appearance for the Jamaican goalkeeper. Pickens featured in last week’s NASL Team of the Week, his second time being so honored.
Neither team had a clear cut scoring chance in the opening 45 minutes, though Marcos Senna did force a Pickens save with an impressive shot from distance before Pickens departed the match.
The Rowdies’ best scoring opportunity of the first half didn’t actually produce a shot, as Casey Townsend’s cross from the right wing in the 34th minute rolled across the 18-yard box for Keith Savage. Savage wasn’t quite able to get a foot on it and it ran past to end the opportunity.
Next weekend, the Rowdies remain at Al Lang Stadium for a showdown with their biggest rivals the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Saturday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m. Call (877) ROWDIES to purchase tickets.