The oldest professional soccer rivalry in the country turned into a wrestling match Saturday night at Tampa Stadium. Six yellow cards, 31 fouls and eight goals later, the Tampa Bay Rowdies were left lying on the mat.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers outmuscled the Rowdies, scoring four second-half goals and squelching a last-ditch comeback effort to prevail 5-3 in the 42nd meeting of the teams in an American Professional Soccer League game before 3,128 fans.
Defensive breakdowns by Tampa Bay on dead balls accounted for Fort Lauderdale's first three goals. The Strikers opened a 4-1 lead in the 79th minute, only to have the Rowdies (2-5) roar back on goals by Steve Trittschuh and APSL scoring leader Paul Dougherty in the final four minutes before Strikers substitute Alex Sanchez ended the threat with a breakaway goal in injury time.
"The first half looked like a typical Strikers-Rowdies derby, with (four) yellow cards and the benches almost clearing twice," Fort Lauderdale coach Thomas Rongen said. "I think both teams felt the importance of this game, fighting for that fourth playoff position. We did a better job of opening it up in the second half, but we were never in the comfort zone."
The Strikers (2-5) appeared to wrap it up when Zenon Luzniak tucked the ball past goalkeeper Bill Andracki during a two-player breakaway at 79:11 to make it 4-1.
But the Rowdies, who beat league-leading Vancouver 6-2 last week, launched a comeback. Trittschuh scored on a pass from substitute Dan Donigan at 86:45 and Dougherty, who assisted on Tampa Bay's first goal, scored at 88:35 (from Trittschuh) to make it 4-3. But the Rowdies overcommitted in the final frantic seconds, allowing Sanchez to counterattack and finally ice it.
"It's disappointing because the first goal was a soft goal, which didn't help," Tampa Bay coach Ken Fogarty said. "But we broke down in several areas. The third goal was a killer because we left (goal scorer Alvin James) wide open.
"I guess the good in this is we didn't quit, but we're extremely porous at the back."