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Rowdies dominate in second half to defeat Bethlehem 2-0 in USL home opener

Georgi Hristov and Leo Fernandes each score to lead the Rowdies
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
Rowdies midfielder Joe Cole (26) dribbles the ball past AJ Paterson (49) during the first half at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, March 24, 2018.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Rowdies midfielder Joe Cole (26) dribbles the ball past AJ Paterson (49) during the first half at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Published Mar. 25, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG – In need of a second half spark after a frustrating first half, the Rowdies got it from two of their most reliable players. Georgi Hristov and Leo Fernandes each found the net midway through the half, which proved to be the difference in a 2-0 home opening win over Bethlehem in front of 7,368 at Al Lang Stadium.

The Rowdies are now 4-0-5 in home openers since 2010.

"It was a good performance really from the first minute," Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell said. "We defended really well as a team and attacked really well as a team."

After peppering Bethlehem goalkeeper John McCarthy with shot after shot, Tampa Bay (2-0) finally broke through in the 62nd minute. Jack Blake took a free kick from 30 yards and sent an arching shot into the box.

Hristov jumped to meet the ball at its peak 10 yards out and redirected it into the upper third to make it 1-0. He now has 55 career goals with Tampa Bay, two short of the club record held by Derek Smethurst.

"When you're in the box you try to be in the right place at the right time," Hristov said. "Jack sent in a good ball and I was just smarter than the defender, I would say."

Just seven minutes later, Fernandes made it 2-0. He took a through ball on the right side of goal, did a nifty step over and drilled a left-footer from eight yards out that angled into the lower right corner under McCarthy's hand.

"That was very important," Fernandes said. "At 1-0 it's anybody's game still. To get that second one was very important."

Fernandes appeared to score in the first half, but it was not called a goal. In extra time he ripped a shot that was saved back into play.

Fernandes headed the rebound, which was saved back to his feet. He then hit a third shot from five yards that bounced over the goal line before it was cleared by defender A.J. Paterson.

"We were a little disappointed but we had a good chat and we weren't feeling sorry for ourselves," Campbell said. "What we could affect was the next 45 minutes. We started the half really well and got two goals."

Fernandes and Hristov both scored goals in the Rowdies 3-1 season opening win last week.

The Rowdies play next on Saturday at Louisville.

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