ST. PETERSBURG — Georgi Hristov’s first goal of 2014 wasn’t quite enough as the Tampa Bay Rowdies lost their first match of the season Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium, dropping a 3-1 decision to the visiting Atlanta Silverbacks.
“The players are very disappointed,” Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. “They know, without me having to tell them, that that wasn’t good enough, collectively. It’s another three points that we don’t have now. We’re playing catch up.”
An exciting first half hour of play saw the Silverbacks build a 2-1 halftime lead, which they built on in the second half to pick up the win.
Atlanta’s Junior Sandoval gave the visiting Silverbacks an early lead in only the seventh minute of play, collecting a pass from Blair Gavin and slotting home from the right side of the box.
Tampa Bay nearly found itself down 2-0 after 12th minute when the Atlanta was awarded a penalty kick due to a Rowdies handball in the box. As he did on April 12, Matt Pickens made the penalty save to keep the Rowdies in the match.
“Where we’re letting ourselves down, drastically, is out intensity when we begin a game,” Hill said. “I’ve always been told that when you start a game, it’s not pretty. It’s going to be ugly football early on and you have to impose your will on the game. We fell asleep after four minutes.”
The Rowdies made a quick comeback with Georgi Hristov equalizing in the 15th minute. Darel Russell played in a cross from the right wing which was collected at the edge of the box by Hristov, who spun and fired low to the left of Atlanta goalkeeper Derby Carrillo.
Gavin helped Atlanta to another lead with a 26th minute free kick delivery from just across the halfway line which was pushed home by Jaime Chavez for a 2-1 Atlanta lead that carried to the halftime break.
The Silverbacks’ Deon McCaulay added to their advantage in the 51st minute, shooting past Pickens for his for Atlanta goal.
Rowdies coach Ricky Hill made aggressive substitutions in the 64th minute — taking off midfielders Evans Frimpong and Anthony Wallace and replacing them with forwards Carl Cort and Lucky Mkosana — but the Rowdies couldn’t pull a goal back.
“It hurts when they score goals like that,” Hristov said. “It’s only the third week of the season and the season is so long. The big thing is that there’s always a next game. There’s always next game, when you can prove you’re better than what you showed in your last game.”
Midfielder Darel Russell came close on a number of occasions, including a spectacular overhead kick, but Atlanta goalkeeper Eric Ati, who entered the match as a substitute in the 37th minute, was there at every calling.
“Credit to (Ati,)” Hill said. “If we got one back (from down 3-1,) I’m sure we might have been able to get another one, but we cannot concede goals in the manner we did. We've got work to do this week with Orlando on Wednesday night. It's great because the quicker we can get out and have a game, the better it'll be for us to get this memory out of our system. We have to put a better show on. ”
Next, the Rowdies hit the road for a three-match swing, visiting Orlando City on Wednesday night for the first leg of the I-4 Derby and then San Antonio and Ottawa before returning to Al Lang Stadium to face the rival New York Cosmos on May 17 and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on May 24. A fireworks display will follow both of those matches and a $20 “May Madness” package includes a ticket to both matches and can be purchased by calling (877)-ROWDIES.
Atlanta Silverbacks: Junior Sandoval- 7th minute (Assisted by Blair Gavin)
Rowdies: Hristov- 15th minute (Assisted by Darel Russell)
Atlanta Silverbacks: Jaime Chavez- 26th minute (Assisted by Blair Gavin)
Atlanta Silverbacks: Deon McCaulay- 51st minute (Assisted by Pablo Cruz)
Atlanta Silverbacks: Jesus Gonzalez- 61st minute
Atlanta Silverbacks: David Estrada- 90th minute
Atlanta Silverbacks: Jaime Chavez- 90th minute
Rowdies: Darel Russell- 90th minute
GK Matt Pickens; D Frankie Sanfilippo (c), D JP Rodrigues, D Takuya Yamada, D Blake Wagner; M Evans Frimpong (Lucky Mkosana 64'), M Shane Hill, M Darel Russell, M Anthony Wallace (Carl Cort 64') ; F Brian Shriver, F Georgi Hristov
GK Derby Carrillo (Eric Ati 37') ; D Edgar Espinoza, D Ryan Roushandel, D Bobby Reiss, D Mike Randolph (c); M Blair Gavin (Kwadwo Poku 59'), M Jesus Gonzalez, M Pablo Cruz (David Estrada 65') , M Junior Sandoval; F Deon McCaulay, F Jaime Chavez
Following this match, the Rowdies depart for a two-game road trip. Tampa Bay visits the San Antonio Scorpions on May 3 and then makes its first trip to play Ottawa Fury FC on May 10. The next two home matches are against the rival New York Cosmos on May 17 and Fort Lauderdale Strikers on May 24. Call (877)-ROWDIES to secure your seats for both of those big matches.
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