TAMPA — FC Tampa Bay will play the first postseason game in its two years when it hosts a one-game NASL quarterfinal match Oct. 1 at Al Lang Field. Coach Ricky Hill can draw from plenty of knockout-stage experience in his playing career. Hill was a member of the First Division Luton Town squad that scored twice in the final seven minutes to topple Arsenal of the Premier League 3-2 in the final of the 1988 Littlewoods Challenge Cup, now known as the Carling Cup, one of three major domestic competitions in English association football.
"We were a relatively small club, but David conquered Goliath on that day," Hill said.
A year later, Luton Town returned to the final but fell 3-1 to Nottingham Forest.
"We had a great run," Hill said. "The only shame on that experience was at the time, the clubs in England were banned from (European competition) because of the Heysel tragedy with Liverpool and Juventus (in May 1985, at the European Cup final between the teams, 39 fans were killed and about 600 injured in fan violence at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium), or else we would have gone into Europe, which would have been phenomenal for a club of our stature."
Hill sees the similarities between the NASL playoff format and the one-off competitions in England. "I love this type of football right now," he said. "It's do or die, and players have to show up when they're on the field and have to impact the game when they're on the field because there is no tomorrow."
Kickin' it with F Kerry Baptiste
Baptiste, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, joined the team after signing July 7.
You played for coach Ricky Hill when you were both at San Juan Jabloteh in Trinidad and Tobago. Did your familiarity with the coach play a part in your signing?
Yeah, that was probably part of it. … He's a good person before he's a coach. I think one of the reasons why I'm here, he knows what I can do, the kind of person I am, how I carry myself as a person, my professionalism. When he took the job, he reached out to me as soon as possible, and I took the offer.
How does the NASL compare to the leagues in Trinidad and Tobago?
I think the quality of the teams and the guys here makes it a little tougher. Back home, some of the teams we play against, there's not a lot of high quality. Here, you have to focus and concentrate a little more harder.
What are your plans for the offseason?
I was going to get married before I came here, and then this came and happened, so we have to wait until we go back home then to get married. So we try to get married in November, December.
Tampa Bay falls to Puerto Rico 1-0
Tampa Bay lost to host Puerto Rico 1-0 Wednesday night and now faces Fort Lauderdale in its regular-season finale Saturday with the third seed in the playoffs on the line.
A win or tie by Tampa Bay (10-9-8, 38 points) against the Strikers (9-7-11, 38 points) would clinch the third seed in the six-team playoff field.
Tampa Bay made the trip without several starters, including defenders Frankie Sanfilippo and Andres Arango, and midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake. Injuries aren't an issue. Before the game, Hill said that Saturday he would try to balance resting key players and maintaining good play. "I'm still looking for performances … and then when the playoffs come, momentum," he said.