TAMPA — For the Rowdies, it almost felt like an eternity since their last win, let alone their last goal. Players and coaches alike told themselves their luck would turn during the eight-match winless streak, but besieged by injuries and bad luck, they dealt with mounting disappointment.
But on Sunday, Tampa Bay found that winning feeling again.
The Rowdies won their first game since May 29, surviving 102-degree heat at field level with offensive firepower that hasn't been seen in a while by Tampa Bay fans with a 2-0 victory over Coastal Cup rival Miami in front of 3,226 at Steinbrenner Field.
Tampa Bay hadn't scored in 314 minutes until Julian Valentin's header in the 36th minute gave the team a 1-0 lead. And it marked the Rowdies' first first-half goal since their victory over Puerto Rico on Memorial Day weekend.
"It was definitely a boost, and as much as you don't want to admit that it wears on your mind a little bit not scoring goals, it does," said Valentin, who scored off Mozzi Gyorio's corner kick. "We got the one, and now we're confident that they'll start coming in pairs and numbers. It definitely was a sigh of relief."
Aaron King's header in the 66th minute from near the penalty area, on a feed from midfielder Chad Burt, gave Tampa Bay insurance.
For a team devastated by injuries — eight players, including five starters, were out — it was a much-needed confidence builder for a young and inexperienced starting lineup. The average age of the Rowdies' 10 starting field players Sunday was 23.2.
"It is a relief to break the run, but it's not really a surprise," Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish said. "I have complete trust in our young players. It's an injury crisis I've never had in my career before. That's why we brought these young players in, because we thought they were good enough. They've had to grow up quicker than probably we'd like."
The win kept the Rowdies (6-7-5, 23 points) in the eighth and final playoff spot. With 12 games left in the regular season, Tampa Bay is tied with Puerto Rico but gains the edge on goal differential.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay took the edge over Miami in the Coastal Cup, given to the team with the best record from the in-state rivalry. The teams drew two previous league matches and have one remaining (7:30 p.m. Aug. 14, at Miami).
The Rowdies were again shorthanded, with just four field position subs. Newly acquired midfielders Jonny Steele and Ricardo Sanchez were not available, and neither was top midfielder Jeremy Christie, leaving Dalglish to improvise with his lineup again.
Dalglish's decision to place midfielders Long Tan and Pascal Millien up front alongside King to create a 3-3-4 set paid dividends. Tan was an offensive threat throughout the game, taking a team-high seven shots. And King's second-half goal gave him the team lead with five.
That made it easier for Rowdies goalkeeper Daryl Sattler, who made a crucial mistake in his own end that cost Tampa Bay a draw against Rochester on Thursday. Sattler rebounded nicely Sunday, surviving a second-half flurry by Miami (2-7-9, 15 points) and making two key saves.
"They were definitely putting on the heat in the beginning of the second half," Sattler said. "But I have to give credit to the guys in front of me."
Leading by a goal, Gyorio bailed out Sattler in the 63rd minute, blocking Christian Gomez's shot away from an open net after Sattler's challenge.
"They say luck evens itself out over a season, and hopefully our luck is starting to change, because it's been a tough time," Dalglish said. "I can tell you that."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at [email protected]