ST. PETERSBURG — Throughout the tail end of its regular-season schedule, FC Tampa Bay's focus was on earning the right to host a home playoff game.
And though it had sealed that berth heading into Saturday night's regular-season finale against Fort Lauderdale, it was important for the team to head into the playoffs coming off a win at home.
Also, a win or a tie would clinch for Tampa Bay the third seed in the six-team NASL playoff field.
On a soggy Al Lang Field pitch, everything seemed to go Tampa Bay's way, even down to the way it scored the deciding goal in a 2-0 win.
"It was important for us to get three points (Saturday)," coach Ricky Hill said. "It's the best feeling we could have. … I wanted to finish third."
Tampa Bay (11-9-8, 41 points) edged the Strikers for the No. 3 seed, and Saturday it hosts Minnesota, which outlasted surging Montreal for the sixth spot, in a first-round playoff knockout game. Tampa Bay is unbeaten (two wins, two ties) against Minnesota this season.
"In knockout football, form goes out the window — current form, previous form, all form goes out the window," Hill said. "It's who shows up on that day. I'm hoping we have our players in the right frame of mind come Saturday because there will be no regrets. It's either do or don't."
After hitting the far post twice in the first half, Tampa Bay scored its first goal in the 68th minute when midfielder Keith Savage just avoided an offside call, breaking past the Strikers' last defender and taking a lob from midfielder Shane Hill.
Hill's pass died in a muddy patch in front of the net, the ball seemingly gift wrapped for Savage for his fourth goal of the season.
"I'm curious to see the video," Savage said. "I think I was real close to offsides, but we were coming. We were pressuring. I was in the right spot, and (the ball) came right back to me. Once it stopped, it just kind of stopped right in the water."
The goal came after Strikers defender Cristian Arrieta received a red card for a tackle on midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake in the 51st minute, forcing Fort Lauderdale (9-8-11, 38 points) to play a man down for nearly 40 minutes.
Substitute Matt Clare, who had a shot hit off the post late in the second half, scored an insurance goal in injury time for Tampa Bay. Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella got his fifth shutout with 4 saves.