ST. PETERSBURG — Entering Saturday with five teams between them and a playoff spot, the Rowdies jumped over a couple of them including visiting Carolina, thanks to a 1-0 win against the Railhawks before 6,054 at Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay's lone conversion came in the 22nd minute from midfielder Eric Avila. A one-touch chip pass by Georgi Hristov was sent in by Darnell King, a defender who surged often up the right wing. King cut a pass through the box and a sure-footed Avila was there to score his third goal of the season.
"It was a good buildup,'' Avila said. "I thought (King) didn't see me but he pulled it back, and I was able to drill it into the net."
The Rowdies (8-8-8, 32 points) moved past Carolina (30 points) and are tied for fifth with Miami, who lost 2-1 to Indy on Saturday. Fort Lauderdale (31) plays Rayo OKC today. Minnesota holds the final playoff spot with 36 points with New York (49), Edmonton (43) and Indy (42) in the other spots.
"Massive. This was a must-win game," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "Four games undefeated now. We're headed in the right direction."
Carolina's leading scorer, Matt Fondy, made a scoring attempt towards the latter stages of the first half, forcing Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens to dive for the initial save, and again for Fondy's rebound try. Defender Tam Mkandawire cobbled yet a third Fondy strike to safety.
As part of Go Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness Joe Cole donated $1,000 — his promise was a grand for each goal Tampa Bay scored — to Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital. Rowdies chairman Bill Edwards announced a $10,000 donation to the hospital at halftime, despite the game not being sold out.