Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

Rowdies beat rival Strikers, capture Coastal Cup again

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rowdies probably won't win the NASL Soccer Bowl and a second straight league title.

But at least the Rowdies' supporters will have one piece of hardware to claim from the 2013 season.

The Rowdies entered Saturday's season series finale against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers needing no worse than a loss by three goals or fewer to capture the Coastal Cup, given annually to the team that wins the season series between the rivals, for the fourth time in four tries.

Instead, Tampa Bay finished the series in style.

Luke Mulholland's 76th-minute penalty kick sent the Rowdies past the Strikers 2-1 in front of 3,854 at Al Lang Stadium and gave the team the chance to present the Cup to their fans following the match. The Rowdies won three of four matches against the Strikers this season, the only loss coming last week in Fort Lauderdale by the same 2-1 score.

"I feel like today was for the fans for sure," Rowdies forward Lucky Mkosana said.

The New York Cosmos defeated Carolina 4-0 Saturday to remain in control of the fall season title chase. With three left remaining for each league team, the Cosmos lead the second-place Rowdies by seven points. The Rowdies still have a long-shot chance at the fall title but have to win the remainder of their matches and hope the Cosmos lose next week.

"It's going to be tough," Mkosana said. "Hopefully something works out for us."

Mulholland scored the winner with less than 15 minutes remaining after Keith Savage was bulled over from behind in the box.

On the play, Evans Frimpong slipped a pass toward goal for Savage, who got to the ball and shielded it before being knocked over by Fort Lauderdale midfielder Pecka.

Mulholland shot the penalty low and left, and Strikers goalkeeper Richard Sanchez guessed incorrectly, pushing the Rowdies (4-2-5, 17 points) ahead 2-1. The goal was the midfielder's eighth of the season.

Mkosana gave the Rowdies an early 1-0 advantage in the 14th minute with his second goal since joining the team Sept. 2 on loan. Midfielder Shane Hill passed to forward Etienne Barbara in the middle of the field. Barbara, making his first start in five weeks, slid a through ball toward Mkosana on the right wing. Mkosana maneuvered around Sanchez and deposited the ball into the open goal.

"I think if you look back on (the first goal), it'd look good in any league at any time," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said.

The Strikers (4-5-2, 14 points) equalized in the 38th minute after a long, cross-field pass toward the right flank found the feet of Fort Lauderdale forward Yaikel Perez. Deep in the box, Perez faked a shot to send Rowdies defender Andres Arango sprawling onto the ground, looked up and found forward Martin Nunez open in front of the net. Nunez's goal sent the teams into halftime tied 1-1.

"When they scored the equalizer, it was like 'not again,' " Mulholland said. "But, credit to the players and Ricky, we had a good start to the second half and felt like we were more comfortable."

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