ST. PETERSBURG — After another hour of unrewarded superior play, the Rowdies finally caught a break.
Joe Cole scored two goals, the first a deflected shot in the 61st minute, as the Rowdies bested Rayo OKC 2-0 before an announced crowd of 4,935 at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday. Georgi Hristov recorded both assists.
"Everybody and his dog could see our performance level has been very good," coach Stuart Campbell said. "It's nice to finally get the result that our performance deserved."
Cole's first goal came courtesy of a heady pass from Hristov, who appeared set for a longer cross but instead put the ball inside to Cole from the left wing.
Rayo defenders reacted as though they thought Cole was offside, but he went through with the play, quickly pivoting and firing a low shot that went off Rayo defender Futty Danso then slid in off the left post.
It ended a 317-minute scoreless streak for the Rowdies, who had lost five of their previous six.
"Sometimes it takes (a break), and you get a win, and your confidence builds," Cole said.
Tampa Bay (7-8-6) did not sit on the lead. In the 70th minute, midfielder Eric Avila, a creator throughout the evening, slotted a room-service ball to Hristov down the right flank. Hristov's shot was saved, but Cole was there for an uncontested rebound.
The Rowdies pulled within five points of the final playoff spot with 11 games left, as fourth-place Minnesota (32 points) was held to a 1-1 draw with Miami.
Cole, who has seven goals on the season, also had a missed penalty kick. Rayo goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes dove well to his left to stop Cole's 10th-minute effort, which looked like it might portend another night of Tampa Bay dominating play but getting a result that didn't reflect that.
"Horrible penalty," Cole said. "I changed my mind at the last minute. It summed up what the team had been, anxious in front of goal."
In the 50th minute, with the game scoreless, the Rowdies got a key reflect stop from Matt Pickens on one of the few dangerous Rayo chances. It was Rayo's only shot on target, compared to eight for the Rowdies, who held a 23-8 overall advantage on shots. "We finally got rewarded for our effort," Pickens said.