ST. PETERSBURG — Despite coming up short in their quest to win the NASL spring season, which would have ensured an opportunity to defend their 2012 league title in this year's Soccer Bowl, the Rowdies can take solace in going into a monthlong break between seasons on a two-game winning streak.
And they continue to confound cross-state rival Fort Lauderdale.
The Rowdies scored twice in each half, outclassing the Strikers 4-0 — the fourth-straight victory over their nemesis from South Florida — in front of a spirited Al Lang Stadium crowd of 5,034 on Thursday night. It was the largest home crowd of the season despite a 23-minute delay at the start of the game to remove water from the saturated pitch and a brief downpour between halves.
Since 2011, Tampa Bay is 8-1-1 against Fort Lauderdale and has outscored the Strikers 25-9.
"For some reason, the ball bounces our way (against the Strikers). … It's great," Rowdies midfielder Keith Savage said. "I hope we can continue to be the better team in the state."
Savage scored both of the first-half goals to power the Rowdies (5-4-3, 18 points) to their first league victory at home this season after going in with a 0-3-2 mark. In the 20th minute, Georgi Hristov sent a through ball toward the goal that Savage tracked down and buried into the far corner from 6 yards away.
On a corner kick 12 minutes later, Rowdies defenders Jay Needham and Frankie Sanfilippo, along with Fort Lauderdale goalkeeper Matt Glaeser, converged on the same spot to challenge for Luke Mulholland's cross. Glaeser deflected the ball but was upended in the process. Savage, lurking in the middle of the box, looped a header over Glaeser and into the goal for his third score this season.
"I don't know how it went in," Savage said. "It was a miracle, but I'll take it."
Needham scored seven minutes into the second half to end any thoughts of a second-half rally for a struggling Fort Lauderdale (2-8-2, 8 points) side. Mulholland's corner kick traveled into the middle of the box, and Needham timed his jump to head the ball into the far corner to make it 3-0.
Mike Ambersley got on the score sheet for the second game in a row to cap the Rowdies' scoring. Hristov sprung Ambersley on a breakaway one-on-one with Glaeser. Amberlsey took a couple of dribbles and slotted his shot past the outstretched goalie.
"You don't want to go into the second half of the season having not won a (league) home game," Ambersley said. "That's when doubt starts creeping into your mind."
Rowdies goalkeeper Diego Restrepo stopped eight shots to earn his third shutout in all competitions this year.
"He's showed in practice that he feels himself getting to that place he wants to be, getting to where he feels he can be at his best, and it shows on the field," Savage said. "The shutout was huge for him."
The Rowdies have a month off before the NASL fall season, which starts Aug. 3 at San Antonio. "We've had two wins in a row," coach Ricky Hill said. "It's a shame the break is coming now in respect that everyone starts from scratch at zero (points). We've shown now where our standards can be and where we can improve on the standards we've set recently."