For about 10 minutes after its playoff-clinching victory at Minnesota on Tuesday night, FC Tampa Bay's players partied. They cranked the music in the locker room to full blast, singing louder and dancing funkier than they had after previous victories. There were high-fives and hugs and the elation that comes from achieving a seasonlong target. And that was the extent of the festivities. No bottles popping. No champagne showers. "We know we've got a busy period coming up, and there's not a lot of time for celebration right now," Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill said. "The time for real celebrations will be if we manage to go all the way and win the championship."
Midfielder Mozzi Gyorio scored the playoff-clinching goal in the 77th minute on a free kick, the second time this season he has scored directly off a set piece.
"All the players are encouraging Mozzi and want him to take our free kicks," Hill said. "They see him work on them day after day after day in training. There are times in training where they see him put the ball wherever he wants."
If the NASL regular season ended today, Tampa Bay would be the third seed for the playoffs and would host a first-round match against the No. 6 seed, currently Minnesota. Tampa Bay is four points clear of fourth-place Edmonton and trails second-place Puerto Rico by eight points. The top two seeds earn a bye into the semifinals. The semifinal and championship rounds consist of a two-game, home-and-away series with aggregate goals determining the winner.
Potential home dates at Al Lang Field for Tampa Bay playoff games include: Oct. 1 (quarterfinal round), Oct. 7 (semifinal round, leg one), Oct. 15 (semifinal round, leg two), Oct. 22 (championship round, leg one) and Oct. 29 (championship round, leg two).
All five potential playoff dates are set for 7:30 p.m.
Kickin' it with midfielder Chad Burt
Burt returned to the lineup Aug. 27 at Fort Lauderdale after a foot injury sidelined him for nearly three months.
What was the nature of your injury and are you fully recovered as the team begins its playoff run?
I broke two metatarsals in my foot. … I've just been playing on them broken. One's still broken, the other's still cracked. … It's something where before and definitely after the game, it gets really sore. During the game, it doesn't affect me as much. I just have to play through the pain.
What's your greatest soccer moment?
I guess the one that sticks out is when I was playing professional indoor soccer in Milwaukee, I had my sister (Brittany Burt, a senior soccer player at Florida Gulf Coast University) come up and watch me play. That was great because I was named player of the match and scored three goals. After the match, I threw the ball up into the stands and she caught it.
How gratifying for you was it to help your hometown team qualify for the postseason?
It's amazing. I coach in the bay area. Grew up there. Spent my whole life there. I've lived all over. St. Pete/Tampa is just an awesome place to be able to play professionally.
Kicks in the grass
Jeremy Christie made his 2011 debut in Tampa Bay's 2-0 loss at Carolina and went nearly 90 minutes three days later at Minnesota. Christie, normally a midfielder, filled in as a defender in both games. "With his experience and his quality, he can manage a game from a right back position and ease himself back in," Hill said. … Tampa Bay used a piecemeal backline of Frankie Sanfilippo, Takuya Yamada, David Hayes and Christie in the win over Minnesota with some starting defenders unavailable. Andres Arango was suspended for the match after picking up a red card against Carolina. J.P. Rodrigues didn't make the trip because of an abdominal strain. … M Pascal Millien continues to nurse a calf strain that has hampered him for weeks and forced him to the bench the past three games. "When we return home, I expect people like J.P. and Pascal to be back available," Hill said. M/D Shane Hill didn't play because of an ongoing hamstring injury but should be ready for Saturday at Puerto Rico.