ST. PETERSBURG — With New York's come-from-behind victory over San Antonio last Saturday, the Rowdies were eliminated from the NASL fall season title chase, and the Cosmos will face Atlanta in the Soccer Bowl on Nov. 9 to crown a new champion.
Tonight's regular-season finale between the Rowdies and Minnesota United at Al Lang Stadium doesn't matter much, other than pride for both teams. So the Rowdies won't defend the NASL championship they won a year ago against Minnesota, but the season has been memorable for Tampa Bay nonetheless:
Most valuable player
Goalkeeper Diego Restrepo: It took the Venezuelan-born and Colombian-raised Restrepo four matches before he received his first start. Once he settled in, however, the Rowdies were a different team. Restrepo excelled in one-on-one situations and was 3-for-3 saving penalty kicks. He was the engine behind Tampa Bay's franchise-record 10-match unbeaten streak. The Rowdies likely would have had more losses without Restrepo's emergence.
Honorable mention: Midfielder Luke Mulholland had 10 goals, including four in the last five games, and seven assists. … Forward Georgi Hristov had 12 regular-season goals to tie Aaron King (2010) for most in a season since the team's resurrection.
Defender Frankie Sanfilippo: The Rowdies' captain for three consecutive seasons, Sanfilippo, a right back, is one of NASL's top defenders yet is often overlooked for postseason accolades. "From my estimation, he should be on the (league) team of the year every year," coach Ricky Hill said. "Day in, day out, you can't get someone who's more committed and more focused than Frankie."
Honorable mention: Andres Arango is a stalwart defender despite playing out of position for most of the season at left back.
Prettiest: Carl Cort, Oct. 5, at Fort Lauderdale. In one fluid motion, the forward settled a cross-field pass from Sanfilippo with his right foot and struck a volley with the same foot into the upper far corner of the goal from 15 yards.
Longest: Mulholland, Oct. 26, at Edmonton: Off a free kick, Mulholland, with the aid of a dummy from Lucky Mkosana, bounced a shot into the goal from 35 yards.
Most improbable: Shane Hill, May 18, at Minnesota: In first-half stoppage time, Minnesota goalie Daryl Sattler punched a long ball away from the goal at the 18. The ball headed straight for Hill, who left-foot-volleyed the ball over Sattler and in.
Rowdies 1, Seattle 0, May 29: The Rowdies eliminated four-time U.S. Open Cup finalist and MLS title contender Seattle 1-0 to reach the fourth round of the Cup competition. Hristov knocked home a rebound in the 75th minute, and Restrepo made a late penalty save on Nigerian international Obafemi Martins to preserve the win in front of a raucous Al Lang crowd.
Most disappointing result (tie)
New York 4, Rowdies 3, Sept. 29: With the fall season championship hanging in the balance, the Rowdies allowed a 3-1 halftime lead to slip away.
Carolina 2, Rowdies 1, June 8: Playing a man down for most of the game, the Rowdies went ahead 1-0 on Devin Del Do's 87th-minute goal. That score only served to wake up the RailHawks, though, who tallied two stoppage-time goals to take the three points for the victory.