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Rowdies season ends with playoff loss to New York Red Bulls II

By Rodney Page
CHRIS URSO | Times Tampa Bay Rowdies forward Sebastian Guenzatti gets tripped up in the box while attempting to score in the first half against the New York Red Bulls II Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017 in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — So much for seedings.

The defending United Soccer League champion New York Red Bulls II, a No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, notched its second upset by defeating the No. 3 Rowdies 2-1 in extra time Saturday night in front of 5,119 at Al Lang Stadium. The Red Bulls (14-14-5) advance to the Eastern final next Saturday at Louisville.

Tampa Bay ends its season 14-8-11.

"We’re obviously very disappointed with the end result," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "We created our chances and felt we deserved the result tonight."

The winning goal came in the 93rd minute during the first 15-minute extra period. New York midfielder Florian Valot crossed a ball just past the finger­tips of goalkeeper Matt Pickens and onto the foot of a sliding Stefano Bonomo, who redirected the cross into the goal from 5 yards out to make it 2-1.

The Rowdies had 27 minutes to find an equalizer but couldn’t do it. Perhaps the best chance came 22 minutes into extra time when substitute Martin Paterson took a pass 10 yards from goal. He turned and launched a left-footer that went just wide left. A minute later, Sebastian Guenzatti cranked a 20-yarder that just cleared the bar. And in extra time, Hunter Gorskie had a shot go off the right post.

It never would have gone to extra time had it not been for Red Bulls keeper Evan Louro. He made two diving saves, one in the 87th minute on a Michael Nanchoff shot and another in the 88th minute on a Neill Collins shot, that kept the score tied at 1. He also had three saves in extra time.

"Their keeper was the best player on the pitch," Rowdies midfielder Joe Cole said. "With the way he played, it just wasn’t going to be our day."

The match was physical from the beginning, and New York actually had two early scoring chances that were thwarted by Pickens. But in the 26th minute the Rowdies scored the half’s only goal.

Defender Zac Portillos was unchecked from 30 yards out and ripped a shot that caromed off a New York defender. Georgi Hristov collected the loose ball about 10 yards from goal and took a left-footed shot that beat Louro. It was Hristov’s second playoff goal. Tampa Bay has scored at least one goal in 17 straight matches dating back to July 6.

Two minutes later, Marcel Schafer passed to a wide open Cole, who looked like had a chance at scoring Tampa Bay’s second goal. But Louro saved it to keep the score 1-0 at halftime.

The lead held until the 57th minute. Red Bulls midfielder Junior Flemmings made a steal outside the 18-yard box and had a clear run at goal. Pickens came out of the net and tripped Flemmings before he could get off a shot, which resulted in a penalty kick.

Bonomo converted the penalty kick to tie the match. New York is 9-for-9 on penalty kicks this season, the only USL team without a miss.

This was only the second home loss for the Rowdies this year, going 11-2-5 at Al Lang.

"The feeling at the moment is disappointment," said Cole, who also said he would be returning next season. "Disappointment for the fans, the players, the staff, the owner.

"But this is football and sometimes you don’t get what you deserve.’’