ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies held off a persistent effort from third-division Cincinnati, riding an early Georgi Hristov score to a 1-0 victory Wednesday in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Tampa Bay advances to face Columbus of MLS on June 15 in Ohio. MLS teams enter the Open Cup, a more than century-old tournament, in the fourth round, while Wednesday saw NASL sides join the single-elimination field.
Cincinnati, whose 6-2-2 record is good for third place among 14 squads in the USL's Eastern Conference, tested Tampa Bay goalkeeper Matt Pickens steadily and outshot the Rowdies 14-7.
It wasn't a regular-season contest, but it still counts for Tampa Bay's first back-to-back victories this spring. The goal came in the 11th minute when defender Neill Collins spotted Hristov, who gathered a ball that traveled at least 35 yards in the air then cut it back around a Cincinnati defender before uncorking a powerful strike.
Pickens had preserved the lead early in the second half when a shot ricocheted off a Rowdies defender and he dived to his left after having to change direction. He later made a critical decision to dispossess an in-alone Corben Bone, who was inches away from being able to touch the ball around Pickens with an empty net. In the late going, two Rowdies collided, letting the ball run free, but Cincinnati sub Antoine Hoppenot's shot was nowhere close.
Pickens had help, Darnell King making a vital block when Cincinnati broke in clean at 57 minutes. Tam Mkandawire and Juan Guerra had similar blocks in the first half. King had two near assists, one a point-blank setup that sub Danny Mwanga put high in the 85th minute.
The Rowdies, in sixth place but only two points out of second in the NASL standings with two games left in the spring season, return to Al Lang on Saturday night to face Ottawa.
Even with that looming, Rowdies coach Stu Campbell went with a lineup containing mostly starters. Walter Ramirez did get his first start having played just 18 minutes, but the only other change was due to injury, Ben Sweat getting his fourth start in place of Zac Portillos.
Joe Cole played the full 90 as he has in all four of his games with Tampa Bay. For the first time, Freddy Adu made the sub list, but he still did not get in.