ST. PETERSBURG — For the first 45 minutes of the Rowdies' NASL fall season opener against Atlanta, the bugaboos that plagued them through much of the spring resurfaced.
The Rowdies couldn't capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities, gave up a pair of goals through defensive lapses and appeared in danger of failing to pick up three points for the fifth time in six home league matches.
A re-energized attack emerged out of the Al Lang Stadium locker room for the second half, however, and the resilient Rowdies scored three goals to rally for a 3-2 victory in front of 3,896 on Saturday.
"The main objective was to get three points," coach Ricky Hill said. "I told the boys (Friday), good, bad or indifferently, we need three points, and they've delivered. But we have to improve collectively if we're going to get more three points, as I expect."
Georgi Hristov scored his fourth goal in two matches (including friendlies) and second of the night for the winner in second-half stoppage time. Late substitute Evans Frimpong hit a corner to the near post, and Hristov powered a diving header in for the victory. Seconds earlier, Hristov was denied from 8 yards on a one-handed save by Atlanta's Derby Carrillo.
"It's not easy to be a soccer player. … Having some situations and not scoring, you have to be very, very strong mentally," Hristov said. "I'm very happy that I score these two goals and help the team."
Hristov equalized at 2 for the Rowdies (1-0-0, 3 points fall; 3-3-4, 13 points overall) in the 66th minute after a cross into the box was mishit by Carrillo, and the Bulgarian striker was lurking nearby to slide the mistake into an open goal.
The Rowdies finally lit the scoreboard in the 58th minute on the first league goal of the season for Casey Townsend. Shane Hill played a ball into the box for Frankie Sanfilippo, and the Rowdies captain crossed into the middle of the box. Carrillo dived to deflect the pass with his right hand, but Townsend worked his way around the keeper and an Atlanta defender to cut the deficit to 2-1. "The goalie kind of fumbled it, and that's my job as a poacher," Townsend said. "Luckily, I was there to hit it in."
Atlanta (0-1-0, 0 points fall; 3-6-1, 10 points overall) scored the first goal on a perfectly struck 35-yard screamer into the top left corner by Junior Burgos in the 27th minute.
Atlanta grabbed a two-goal advantage against the run of play in the 43rd minute after Deon McCaulay got behind the Rowdies' defense and Jesus Gonzalez played a long pass over the top to the wide-open striker. McCaulay, with an option to his right, took the shot from 10 yards, sliding a ball past goalie Matt Pickens at the far post.
"We have the players … to come back, and we have the confidence in each other that if (the opponents) score, we think we can still come back and win," Townsend said. "No one panicked."