Friday, November 16, 2018

A rare treat Saturday for Rowdies: a home playoff game

ST. PETERSBURG — Rowdies fans, set to be rewarded with their first home playoff match in five years, can also take a little credit for it.

Strong, supportive showings at Al Lang all season helped boost Tampa Bay to the best home record in the Eastern Conference, a substantial reason for the Rowdies being the East’s No. 3 seed. They won only three times in 16 road contests, but the 11-1-4 home showing has Tampa Bay hosting No. 6 FC Cincinnati tonight.

Kickoff is 7:30.

"There’s been a lot of buildup, not just this week but probably the last few years," Tampa Bay defender Neill Collins said.

Tampa Bay drew nearly 6,000 fans per game, just behind Louisville for third among the East’s 16 franchises. Cincinnati blew away the rest of the league, averaging more than 21,000.

"The fans have been superb this year. They’re a big part for us being where we are," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said.

Campbell, a player at the time, and midfielder Keith Savage are the only current Rowdies who took part in Tampa Bay’s last postseason appearance.

The last one at Al Lang was as dramatic as they come. Needing at least a two-goal victory over Minnesota as the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl was an aggregate affair, the Rowdies won 3-1 and eventually took the title in a penalty kick shootout.

Fans would best not wait until the championship round to turn out, however. The USL Cup (Nov. 13, 9 p.m.) will be held at the site of the club with the better record, and the West’s top five seeds are all better than Tampa Bay.

The higher seed hosts each round. If the Rowdies (14-7-11) prevail tonight, they get the winner between No. 2 Charleston and No. 7 New York; they would host a conference semifinal only if New York prevails. And top seed Louisville (in action Friday) would have to fall at some point for the East final to be at Al Lang.

Of course, none of that matters if Tampa Bay doesn’t get past Cincinnati (12-10-10), which based on its U.S. Open Cup performance is pretty good at elimination games. Cincinnati won five matches, two against MLS sides, to reach the semifinal.

"We’re in good form, but I can’t help but feel form goes out the window to a certain extent, especially in the postseason (with) a win-or-go-home scenario," Campbell said. "We have to be really, really wary of Cincinnati. They’ve proved, (with) the success they’ve had in the Open Cup, in one-off games they’re as good as anybody."

The teams haven’t played since July 6, when Tampa Bay prevailed 2-0 at Al Lang. The Rowdies have added three new faces since then with all three — Hunter Gorskie, Sebastian Guenzatti and Walter Restrepo — providing valued contributions. They’ve combined for six goals, with Gorskie supplying three (on six shots) from his defensive post.

Georgi Hristov leads Tampa Bay with 13 goals, Martin Paterson adding nine and Joe Cole seven (with seven assists). Marcel Schafer has been especially hot of late, with five goals and a team-high 11 assists.

"It is different, because it is an elimination game," Schafer said. "These games are special. We work for that the whole year. It’s a positive energy for us. When you’re a professional athlete, especially for these moments you live, you work for that. It will be a tough game for sure, Cincinnati is a tough team, strong players, but we are a good team, too … a very good team. And we have home advantage."

Collins expects a full house, and perhaps some newcomers.

"I just can tell how excited everyone around the area is, (by) the amount of people that have mentioned to me they’re coming to the game, that aren’t necessarily huge soccer fans," he said. "I think the fact we’ve been successful has started to draw them to Al Lang."

Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

ST. PETERSBURG — Jefferson continues to prove that seedings don't matter in Class 5A. A week after upsetting top seed Hardee, the No. 8Dragons took down No. 4 seed Lakewood 34-23 in the region semifinals.Niko Duffey scored two first-half rushin...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

VALRICO — In the offseason, Bloomingdale coach Max Warner told his players the goal was to play on Thanksgiving weekend.That left a lot of perplexed looks from the Bulls."They didn't know what that meant," Warner said.Bloomingdale had neve...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

VIERA — Once again, the Plant Panthers proved they're the kind of team that can take a little momentum … and run you over with it.That was the case in Friday night's Class 7A, Region 2 semifinal as the Panthers rallied from an 18-10 halft...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

DOVER – Isaiah Knowles connected with Christian Helms on a pair on 10-yard touchdown tosses as Seffner Christian defeated Carrollwood Day 27-16 on Friday, giving the Crusaders their first playoff win in school history. The win, a rematch o...
Updated: 18 minutes ago

Football playoffs: Nature Coast 17, Baker County 16

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast, an easy winner most of its past 10 games, really never had the need to attempt a field goal this season. Nor did the Sharks need to throw much, despite quarterback Fabian "2 Fabe" Burnett possessing a talented arm.Bu...
Updated: 23 minutes ago

Football playoffs: Admiral Farragut 40, Cambridge Christian 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Admiral Farragut's Courtney Eubanks came out for his first home playoff game ready to play.Early in the first quarter, Eubanks had an interception on defense and followed that play with a touchdown on offense as the Blue Jacket...
Updated: 29 minutes ago

Football playoffs: Citra North Marion 40, Zephyrhills 21

ZEPHYRHILLS — Zephyrhills' perfect season is imperfect now that it is over. A 40-21 loss to Citra North Marion in Friday night's Class 5A region semifinal ended the Bulldogs' season at 11-1. They were ousted in the second round for a second str...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Jesuit 31, Immokalee 3

TAMPA — What a celebratory year it would be if Jesuit could win its second state championship in the golden anniversary season of its first.The Tigers are three wins away from making that happen.Jesuit moved to the next round Friday with a 31-3...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Clearwater Central Catholic 30, Tampa Catholic 3

CLEARWATER — A defense that strong can forgive a lot of sins. Coming off of a two-week break with an uncharacteristic streak of undisciplined play, Clearwater Central Catholic presented itself with more challenges in the early stages of Friday'...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Armwood 65, Lake Weir 7

SEFFNER – E.J. Wilson scored four touchdowns and Aamaris Brown had an interception return for a touchdown to carry Armwood to a dominant 65-7 win against Lake Weir in the Class 6A region semifinals Friday.The 11-1 Hawks will travel to Ocala Van...
Updated: 1 hour ago