Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Sports

Georgi Hristov's game sizzles for Rowdies

RECOMMENDED READING


ST. PETERSBURG

Spring season? Don't make Georgi Hristov laugh.

Where Hristov, now in his fourth year both with the Rowdies and in the United States, grew up there actually was a spring season. In Bulgaria there's even an autumn, and this thing called snow in the winter.

"I'm very used to the four seasons. I really love the snow," Hristov said.

So forgive Hristov if he didn't exactly feel rejuvenation Saturday when the Rowdies played the finale of their "spring" season — in brutally sweltering conditions at Jacksonville. The game was a 4 p.m. kickoff.

"I've never felt like that before. You know how humid it gets in St. Pete, well those are 7:30 games. At 4 o'clock it's a nightmare," he said.

These days Hristov must settle for December trips back to Bulgaria. Maybe not from a weather standpoint, but in every other sense he has made himself at home with the Rowdies, and their fans are happy about it. His debut season saw Hristov win the league MVP, and although his stats have declined a tad, he's still among the most popular figures on the team.

It took awhile to get here.

Things were perfectly fine, Hristov growing up in the town of Velingrad, raised by his "angel" of a grandmother, Maria, who died two years ago. With brother Hristo and cousins Marin and Ivan, Hristov enjoyed the natural beauty of a town known for its abundant mineral waters.

"Water is just coming up out of the ground there. It's unbelievable," he said.

He picked up soccer when he was 10, actually a few years later than most, but quickly thrived. He matriculated through Maritsa Plovdiv academy (Plovdiv being about 50 miles from Velingrad) and debuted for the Maritsa senior club at age 17. Three years later he led the league with 18 goals. Two years after that he signed with Botev Plovdiv and had 19 more goals.

Hristov went up to Levski of capital city Sofia, scoring 12 goals across three seasons (2008-10). But his production declined to four goals in the next two, and it was time to make a move.

His cousins already had, coming to St. Petersburg in 2005.

"When the Rowdies came back (in 2008) they told me they wanted to come then. I knew very little about them, basically nothing. But I just wanted to change," said Hristov, who had never set foot outside Europe.

The move worked out extraordinarily well. Hristov was unstoppable that debut 2013 season in green and gold, scoring 12 goals, adding a league-high eight assists and earning the NASL Golden Ball as its league MVP.

He added a team-high 22 points in 2014 but the Rowdies slid to a seventh-place finish, and last year Hristov was held to two goals.

"When you become the MVP there's no other way, unless you win it again, that you're not going to go down," he said. "Last year I played a different position as midfielder, and of course I want to do more. But I never doubted myself. The hardest part in soccer is consistency. It's hard to go to the top and it's harder to stay there."

But recently he has trended back in that direction. After being held to one goal in the first eight matches, he broke through with three in two games, getting one in the Rowdies' U.S. Open Cup victory against Cincinnati, then two more about 72 hours later as Tampa Bay dropped Ottawa.

After coming on as a sub for five of the first seven matches, and playing midfield, Hristov got the start as the lone striker as Tampa Bay beat Minnesota on May 28. Minnesota hadn't allowed a goal at home all season.

Then against Cincinnati, Campbell switched to a three-forward alignment, with Hristov starting in all four games of an unbeaten (3-0-1) streak.

"He's kept his head down and when he's been given the opportunities, he's taken them," Campbell said. Hristov was named Player of the Week for his work. "I'm absolutely delighted for Georgi because he played really well. All of the players are working hard and helping our team earn positive results."

There is a humorous angle to Hristov's resurgence. The long pass from defender Neill Collins that sprung Hristov toward his goal against Cincinnati was hatched from a unique pregame meeting.

"We were, well, using the bathroom. And Neill just told me to make that run, be ready for that pass," Hristov said. "So it was a little uncomfortable but that goal started in the toilets."

The work against Cincinnati earned Tampa Bay a trip to Columbus to play MLS side the Crew in Wednesday's fourth-round U.S. Open Cup match.

It wasn't quite Bulgaria weather but it was a nice change of pace for Hristov.

"It's warm (in Columbus) but it's different. You can breathe here."

Comments
Rays make promotions in clubhouse, athletic training staffs

Rays make promotions in clubhouse, athletic training staffs

The Rays announced several promotions to complete their home clubhouse and athletic training staffs:Ryan Denlinger was promoted from assistant to home clubhouse manager, replacing Jose Fernandez, who left during last season. Denlinger has been with t...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
LINEBACKER CORPS IS A FORCE FOR CCC

LINEBACKER CORPS IS A FORCE FOR CCC

CLEARWATERFrom Colin McCarthy (Miami/Tennessee Titans) to Caanan Brown (Virginia) to Conner Dorris (Navy), a Clearwater Central Catholic defensive staple has been star quality at linebacker. Think Marauders, think linebackers. It has been a cornersto...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
Bucs linemen hand out Thanksgiving dinner to 1,000 families in drive-through event

Bucs linemen hand out Thanksgiving dinner to 1,000 families in drive-through event

TAMPA ó The smiles started with hundreds of moms, dads and kids as they arrived at One Bucs Place, but it wasnít long before the giant men in red were beaming, too."This is the first time I have gotten a Thanksgiving meal like this," said Melissa Mob...
Updated: 30 minutes ago
Jones: Maybe the Florida job isnít as good as we thought

Jones: Maybe the Florida job isnít as good as we thought

These are strange, unsettling times for the University of Florida.The Gators need themselves a football coach.They offer a terrific job. Maybe one of the best jobs in the country.Right?Uh, right? (nervous laugh)Well, weíll soon find out. Maybe this i...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Captainís Corner: Cooling trend to send inshore species into deeper canals

As temperatures drop with every passing cold front, it will soon be time to seek out protected deeper waters for consistent inshore catches. Residential canals will offer protection from northerly winds, keeping it more comfortable for us topsides wh...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning-Blackhawks: Tampa Bay is killing it on penalty-killers

Lightning-Blackhawks: Tampa Bay is killing it on penalty-killers

BRANDON ó A successful penalty kill begins long before the offending Lightning player, whistled two minutes earlier for some infraction, leaves the box with the score unchanged.It begins with a detailed scouting report of the opposing teamís power pl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Making sense of the latest Chip Kelly-Florida news

Making sense of the latest Chip Kelly-Florida news

Florida is prepared to look beyond Chip Kelly as its next coach, Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday afternoon.Of course the Gators are. They have to be. UCLA is a feasible landing spot for Kelly, the former Oregon coach. UF athletic director Scott Strick...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs-Falcons: Has this former Buc become a pass-rushing force?

Bucs-Falcons: Has this former Buc become a pass-rushing force?

TAMPA ó The Bucs face the defending NFC champions twice in their final six games. As they prepare to go to Atlanta on Sunday, former Tampa Bay first-round pick Adrian Clayborn is enjoying quite a two-week run.Clayborn, 29, had six sacks Nov. 12 in a ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Fennelly: USF-UCF rivalry needs more than directional disrespect

Fennelly: USF-UCF rivalry needs more than directional disrespect

TAMPA ó Itís the biggest football game in USF history.Itís two days and 90 miles away. USF at UCF. The 9-1 Bulls against the 10-0 Knights. Itís USF coach Charlie Strong against UCF/Florida/Nebraska coach Scott Frost. Itís the best these two programs ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Clayborn shining for Falcons as Bucs come to town

Clayborn shining for Falcons as Bucs come to town

The Bucs face the Falcons twice in their final six games, and as they prepare to go to Atlanta on Sunday, former Tampa Bay first-round pick Adrian Clayborn has had a nice two-week run.Clayborn had a huge game nine days ago with six sacks in a win aga...
Updated: 2 hours ago