ST. PETERSBURG — A moment of brilliance from Joe Cole, and one that was no slouch from Eric Avila, guided the Rowdies to a 3-0 victory over Puerto Rico on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 5,873 at Al Lang Stadium.
Cole scored on a spectacular bicycle kick in the 10th minute, and Avila added a goal 15 minutes later.
Despite being shorthanded on defense, the Rowdies coasted to their first win of the fall season (1-1-1, 4 points). Tampa Bay is 5-3-5 with 20 points in the combined fall and spring seasons.
"I feel sorry for Eric," coach Stuart Campbell said. "That was a fantastic goal. But Joe's will get some coverage, and well deserved."
The night's magical moment happened off a play that is practiced often — well, at least the first part of it is. Darnell King's long throw-in was flicked on by 6-foot-6 Stefan Antonijevic. Cole chested the ball down but away from the goal, just close enough to attempt the bicycle kick.
"It'll be a nice one to watch … but the main thing is the team was excellent tonight," said Cole, referring to the Rowdies' response to a 4-1 loss at Carolina the previous Saturday.
On any other night, Tampa Bay's second goal would have been the highlight. Avila took a pass from Georgi Hristov, then one touch later shot from 20 yards, looping the ball over Puerto Rico goalkeeper David Meves.
"It was a nice goal. It just wasn't as nice as Joe's," Avila said.
Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens came up with a critical stop on Pedro Mendes' attempt a few minutes before halftime.
"The message at halftime was to play as if it was nil-nil and get the next goal," Campbell said. "To put three in the back of the net was pleasing."
Puerto Rico substitute Sydney Rivera had a dangerous flick opportunity in the 75th minute, but it went several feet wide.
Tommy Heinemann scored the third goal in stoppage time.
The Rowdies were without starting defenders Tam Mkandawire and Neill Collins for a second straight game due to injury.
With Walter Ramirez sliding back from midfield, Keith Savage returned from a preseason injury for his first action of the season. He subbed out late for Freddy Adu, who saw his first home action this season.
"To be back on the field was just a blessing," Savage said. "Joe scored an amazing goal. Eric scored an amazing goal, and it was a great night. Against the quality players we have, it took a long time to see the field."
Tampa Bay returns home to face New York on July 23.