Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov is one of three NASL players in the lead for the Golden Boot award, given to the league's top goal scorer. But the Bulgarian striker might not get a chance to add to his goal total during the final three matches of the season.
Hristov has sat out the past two matches after bruising the heel of his left foot while scoring against New York on Sept. 29. Hristov will not play tonight when the Rowdies, trying to keep their flickering Soccer Bowl hopes alive, host the San Antonio Scorpions at Al Lang Stadium.
"My heel is just bruised, but it's bad, and I actually cannot do anything," Hristov said. "That's why this injury is so annoying because every day you're stepping on it, and it takes a while to heal."
Hristov had a similar injury on the opposite foot early in his professional career in Bulgaria. When he landed awkwardly after hurdling the New York Cosmos goalkeeper while scoring his 12th goal, Hristov immediately knew the severity of the damage.
"The turf was awful in New York," Hristov said. "The turf doesn't give. If it's grass, it's okay. The grass gives. When it first happened, I thought that it was going to be bad. I'm not surprised it's taking this time, but I'm really frustrated. ... This is a bad moment for me to get injured."
After tonight's match, the Rowdies play next week at Edmonton and at home against Minnesota United on Nov. 2. Even if Hristov returns to practice next week, coach Ricky Hill is unlikely to play him on Edmonton's turf field.
Hristov attempted to train Thursday for the first time but couldn't continue and hasn't returned. "I've always tried to play through injuries," he said. "Earlier this season, I played with a torn ear. But this is different. It was the worst pain of my career.
Hristov is stuck on 12 goals, tied with San Antonio's Hans Denissen and Carolina's Brian Shriver. Hristov is also tied for the league lead in assists (seven) with three players, including Rowdies teammate Luke Mulholland.
Trailing the Cosmos by seven points, the Rowdies need a victory over San Antonio and a New York loss or tie Sunday against Edmonton to remain in the hunt for another week.
"I really hope that I will be ready for the last game of the season," Hristov said. "I think I will be ready, but I thought I was going to be ready for the last game against Fort Lauderdale."
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Rowdies vs. San Antonio
When/where: 7:30; Al Lang Stadium
Records: Rowdies 4-2-5 (17 points, second place); San Antonio 3-7-1 (10 points, eighth)
Internet: Watch at ustream.tv/nasl
Tickets: rowdiessoccer.com, Al Lang box office (opens at 4:30), (813) 287-1539
Last meeting: The Rowdies spotted San Antonio three goals in the first 20 minutes but rallied for a 7-4 victory to open the fall season.
Notes: M Shane Hill injured a hamstring early in the Rowdies' 2-1 victory over Fort Lauderdale last week. Hill hasn't trained this week and will miss tonight's match and likely next week's road contest at Edmonton. ... D Jordan Gafa (thigh strain) is also out.