PLANT CITY — VSI Tampa Bay FC had plenty of motivation entering its U.S. Open Cup second-round match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
VSI, a USL PRO team, is a level below the NASL's Rowdies in the U.S. Soccer Federation hierarchy and, playing its first season of professional soccer, is trying to establish itself in the Tampa Bay market.
The Rowdies' incentive? A win would put them into the Cup's third round, where it would host MLS's Seattle Sounders next Wednesday at Al Lang Stadium.
The Rowdies will get that opportunity after defeating VSI 2-1 at Plant City Stadium.
And in defeat, VSI showed it could hang with the defending NASL champs.
"Any time you get a chance to play the guy that's up above you … certainly you want to compete," VSI coach Joel Harrison said. "The Open Cup is a great opportunity to get excited to play and get after it."
VSI nearly drew the game's opening goal when Tony Donatelli was tripped in the penalty box by the Rowdies' Andres Arango. Donatelli took the penalty and blasted a shot for the left corner, but goalkeeper Diego Restrepo tipped the ball onto the post and away from goal with a diving save.
"I just read the guy and kind of knew he was going to go there the way he positioned his body," Restrepo said.
Four minutes later, the Rowdies' Georgi Hristov drew a penalty after he was brought down in the box by Kyle Hoffer. Hristov was true with his attempt, slotting a shot past goalkeeper Kyle Horwath for a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute.
VSI answered almost immediately. After receiving a pass deep inside the Rowdies' box, VSI's Shawn Chin back-heeled a pass to J.T. Noone, and Noone one-timed a shot inside the far post to tie it at 1 in the 27th minute.
Hristov scored the winner in the 43rd minute. The Bulgarian outraced a pair of VSI defenders to a long ball in the box and slipped a shot around Horwath for his second goal of the night and fourth in all competitions this season.
"First in cup tie football is all about winning, about being in the hat for the next round, and the guys achieved that tonight," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "I didn't think we played anywhere near how we can, but, again, I stressed before the game we have to try to match their desperation."