ST. PETERSBURG — The previous weekend at Carolina, Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Ricky Hill tinkered with the starting 11 for the first time during the North American Soccer League's fall season, inserting Brian Shriver, Keith Savage and Amani Walker into the lineup.
The change helped produce a 4-3 victory and end a two-match losing skid.
Hill stuck with the winning combination on Saturday against the New York Cosmos and got a similar result: a much-needed win and three points to keep the Rowdies squarely in the playoff chase.
The Rowdies won 3-1 in front of 4,273 at Al Lang Stadium — raising their total to seven goals in the past two matches — and defeated their longtime rival for the first time in the NASL's modern era. Before Saturday, the Rowdies' last win against the Cosmos came on May 26, 1984.
"I think overall, it's thus far one of our most complete 90 minutes," Hill said.
Savage scored his first goal of the season in the 22nd minute to give the Rowdies (4-2-0, 12 points fall; 6-5-4, 22 overall); it was the second week in a row Tampa Bay scored first but just the second time in 10 league matches. Walker outmuscled a defender to spring free on the right wing and spotted Savage on the back post. Savage slid into the pass, knocking it past goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer after taking a slight deflection.
"This team is deep, and I've had to learn the hard way," Savage said. "Making the most of my opportunities has been awesome. … Credit to Amani, all I had to do was work hard to get up to that side of the field."
A 58th-minute goal from defender Tamika Mkandawire, his second in two weeks, was the winner. Clearwater native Brian Shriver hooked a shot from the left wing that Maurer punched away, but Mkandawire crashed the back post and volleyed the rebound into goal.
"Shriver put a great ball in. The keeper could only parry it," Mkandawire said. "Luckily I was in the right spot to finish it."
The Cosmos (2-3-2 fall) scored in the 81st minute as Stefan Dimitrov took a shot from deep in the box on the right side of goal that kissed off the far post to cut the Rowdies' advantage in half. Second-half substitute Blake Wagner, a Tampa native, supplied an insurance goal in the 90th minute with a laser from the top of the 18-yard box.
"I'm glad that we had the resolve to go back up the other end and make sure we got a two-goal margin with Blake coming on with a fantastic finish," Hill said.
The Rowdies host the Carolina RailHawks on Saturday.