ST. PETERSBURG — Before all of the announced Independence Day crowd of 5,221 had settled into their seats at Al Lang Stadium, Georgi Hristov had settled atop the Rowdies' all-time scoring list.
Against a winless opponent, it looked as if Hristov's 58th franchise goal might set off a burst of scoring. Though it turned out to be a more modest display, it was enough to end a four-match winless streak, 3-1 Wednesday over Toronto FC II.
Hristov's goal broke Derek Smethurst's franchise record and will go down as one of his more unusual tallies.
Tampa Bay goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald played a normal ball to midfield, but the first bounce fooled a Toronto defender and the second sent Hristov in on goal. He alertly chipped it over Borja Angoitia in the eighth minute.
"It means a lot, obviously," Hristov said. "The Rowdies, such an old club with a lot of history. But at the end of the day, it's all about the three points (for the win). Let's not take away what the guys put in tonight, all the effort they had."
Leon Taylor added to his outstanding effort, nabbing his third goal of the year for a 2-0 lead in the second half. And after a Toronto own goal and an hourlong weather delay, captain Joe Cole put away the visitors with his fourth of the season.
Tampa Bay's only other victory during its past 10 matches was also against Toronto. The Rowdies (6-6-4) host defending USL champion Louisville on Saturday with a chance to launch themselves a point from the Eastern Conference's top three, after entering Wednesday in 11th.
Toronto (0-14-3) did not record a shot until a header in second-half stoppage time. Tampa Bay had 15, with a handful of sure-looking chances in the first half — two each on Ivan Magalhaes headers, two in stoppage time from Cole.
So it was an uncomfortable 1-0 lead for the Rowdies until the 54th minute when Fernandes whiffed on an initial cross attempt but still got it to Taylor for his goal.
Though Fitzgerald bungled a free kick across his own goal line four minutes later, Toronto could not impose any more threats.
Newcomer Stefano Bonomo entered in the second half and had two near-goals, one part of a 10-second span where Tampa Bay hit the frame twice.
The Rowdies were eager to get on the front foot, perhaps a bit too much, being whistled three times for offside in the first five minutes. Toronto managed nearly half of the possession and had more corner kicks and cross attempts but not much in the way of danger.
"Without being disrespectful to Toronto, I think the score flattered them," Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. "On another night, we win handily. We make it tense. It just seems to be the way things are going. Delighted for Georgi. We knew it was a matter of time because a goal scorer is always a goal scorer. And it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."