Friday, December 15, 2017
Sports

Rowdies win with Pickens' walkoff save

ST. PETERSBURG — After the first two games of the spring season, the Rowdies were starting to feel a bit like a dad on Father's Day. Another tie would be okay, but really, how many ties do you need?

Matt Pickens to the rescue.

Pickens, the Rowdies goalkeeper, made a diving save on a penalty kick in the game's final second to preserve a 1-0 win over Edmonton on Saturday night in front 4,429 at Al Lang Stadium.

Thanks to Pickens' save, Edmonton remains scoreless in its first three games this season.

Tampa Bay improves to 1-0-2.

The penalty kick was called when it was ruled that Rowdies defender Neill Collins committed a hand ball in the 18-yard box.

Edmonton's Tomi Ameobi took the kick, but Pickens dived right to make the save. The referee then blew his whistle to end the game, thus giving Pickens a rare walkoff save.

"I just try to be calm," Pickens said. "I practice it a lot after practice. Everyone has their own style. I'm not going to give anything away, but there are some triggers that I look at in an opponent."

Tampa Bay hasn't exactly been explosive on offense. It has scored only once in the first two games, and that was on a penalty kick.

The Rowdies first non-set piece goal of the season came in the 73rd minute.

Rowdies midfielder Eric Avila worked free in the right corner and got off a cross that lofted 5 yards in front of the goal. Tommy Heinemann ran onto the ball and headed it underneath the diving arms of Edmonton goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel for a goal that finally gave the crowd something to cheer about.

"The ball got swung out wide to Eric Avila, and I tried to lose my man in the box," Heinemann said. "He put in a perfect ball, and I was able to get my head on it."

Tampa Bay was able to fend off Edmonton's rush in the final 10 minutes of the game. In fact, it survived some close calls in the first half.

Tampa Bay had 74 percent of the possession in the first half.

"Obviously it's a great result for us," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said.

"I thought the penalty kick was a bit harsh. Neill's hands were there, but I thought it was more ball to hand than hand to ball. But Matt came through. He's a bit of a penalty specialist."

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