Georgi Hristov’s brace sent the Rowdies to the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night as NASL side defeated cross-bay USL Pro rival VSI Tampa Bay FC 2-1 in front of a small but boisterous crowd at Plant City Stadium.
After heavy thunderstorms invaded the area for much of the afternoon, the clouds gave way for what many fans would say was a historic night in Tampa Bay soccer history. This was not only the first meeting between the two clubs, but also the first time that two professional teams representing the Tampa Bay area had ever faced off against one another. Dubbed the ‘Tampa Bay Derby,’ this match lived up to all the hype.
First-year VSI thought it had the upper hand 16 minutes in when Rowdies defender Andres Arango was called for a foul in the box, but midfielder Tony Donatelli took the penalty kick only to be denied by a great glove save by Diego Restrepo. The Rowdies goalkeeper guessed correctly and was just able to get his hand on the ball shot low to his right.
The match would not remain scoreless for long as Rowdies Hristov was fouled just inside the VSI penalty area in the 20th minute. The Bulgarian forward took the penalty and comfortably put the ball past VSI goalkeeper Alex Horwath, giving the Green & Gold a 1-0 lead.
JT Noone would equalize for VSI in the 27th minute, receiving a low cross from fellow midfielder Shawn Chin at the top of the Rowdies’ penalty area and putting it past Restrepo at the far post. For Noone, the goal was a historical one because by putting the ball in the back of the net, he became the first player in the Modern Professional Era (1995-present) to score in five consecutive tournaments. He began his journey with a pair of goals for the PDL’s Ocean City Barons (now Nor’easters) in 2009, and scored one goal in each season with the Harrisburg City Islanders from 2010-12, before signing with VSI Tampa during the offseason.
Just before the halftime whistle, the Rowdies came back with a neat through ball up front to Hristov that proved fatal. The ensuing one-on-one with Horwath ended with the Hristov scoring the game-winner for the Rowdies. Despite scoring a historic goal against a crosstown rival, the Rowdies forward was somewhat stoic about the winner.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing against (VSI Tampa Bay FC) or some other team in another state,” he said. “My job is to score goals and I’m really happy with that.”
Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill was clearly delighted with his side’s victory.
“This is very important for us,” he said of the tournament. “We want to go as far as we can in any cup competition that we enter.”
The Rowdies will now face Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders FC in the Third Round at Al Lang Stadium next Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“It’s fantastic to host any MLS side,” the Rowdies’ boss said with excitement in his voice. “They are the number one league in the country. It’s great to see their class of players up close and personal.”
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov – 21st minute (Penalty Kick)
VSI: JT Noone – 27th minute (Assisted by Shawn Chin)
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov – 43rd minute
Tampa Bay: Andres Arango – 16th minute
VSI: Kyle Hoffer – 20th minute
VSI: Alex Freitas – 65th minute
Tampa Bay Rowdies:
GK Diego Restrepo; D Jordan Gafa, D Frankie Sanfilippo (Captain), D Daniel Scott, D Andres Arango; M Evans Frimpong, M Luke Mulholland, M Stuart Campbell (Kyle Clinton 82′), M Raphael Cox (Keith Savage 62′); F Georgi Hristov, F Carl Cort (Amani Walker 45′)
VSI Tampa Bay FC:
GK Alex Horwath; D Alex Freitas, D Kyle Hoffer (Captain), D Josh Rife, D Sean Reynolds; M Tony Donatelli, M JT Noone, Darren Toby, M Shawn Chin; F Douglas Dos Santos, F Andriy Budnyy