Photo courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The difference between the form for the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium this season and on the road provided one of the most stark contrasts in the USL this season, so getting the club’s second away win of the season on Wednesday night in a 3-2 victory against the Harrisburg City Islanders to break a three-game winless streak was a major boost for the top-four contender in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m absolutely delighted to get the three points, but I really thought the performance was outstanding,” said Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell. “We’ve had a few games where we probably haven’t had the points return we deserved, but it all came together tonight and we could’ve had five or six goals if it wasn’t for their goalkeeper.”
The two leading scorers for the Rowdies this season led the way against Harrisburg, with Georgi Hristov and Martin Paterson finding the net two minutes apart after the City Islanders had taken a deserved lead in the 31st minute through Lee Nishanian’s close-range finish from a corner. Hristov’s response five minutes later came at a key moment for Tampa Bay as it looked to react to the setback, with the Bulgarian forward being picked out well by Justin Chavez after a header by Paterson had been cleared off the line.
Paterson then added his ninth goal of the season with an outstanding curled finish from 20 yards that left City Islanders goalkeeper Brandon Miller little chance as he picked out the right corner of the net.
“We’re delighted to get a road win,” said Paterson. “It’s been a long time, but we’ve had a lot of bad luck. Again tonight, we had some tough conditions, but I think we played good football and dominated the game. They’re a good team and they made it hard for us, so we’re delighted to win.”
The City Islanders got back on level terms with another of the bounces that had seemed to go against Tampa Bay at times on the road this season, with a long-range effort by Pedro Ribeiro taking a wicked deflection off Ropapa Mensah at the top of the penalty area to leave Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens stranded as the ball found the left corner.
The Rowdies responded positively in the second half, however, and produced good chances to take the lead after the break before Alex Morrell was brought down for a penalty kick midway through the half. Hristov stepped up and fired low into the left corner for his 10th goal of the season.
“I’m happy to score two goals, but most importantly we got the three points,” said Hristov. “It was a very tough game for us. They got a lucky goal on a big deflection, but we had a good talk in the locker room at halftime and had a good half. We’ve deserved more points from away games recently, but we got the win tonight.”
Tampa Bay could have added to its lead late on, and would have if not for a pair of great saves by Miller to deny first Joe Cole’s long-range effort and then the rebound chance for Walter Restrepo with 10 minutes to go. Restrepo was also guilty of a big miss four minutes later as a low cross by Hristov from the left found him at the near post, only for his effort to go wide.
The Rowdies saw the game out, however, and moved back into fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The club will now head back to St. Petersburg, Fla. in advance of the potential arrival of Hurricane Irma this weekend to be with family and prepare, something both Campbell and his players are grateful for the opportunity to do.
“It’s hard to think about being away from your family during a storm like this, so we’re all very happy that we have the chance to go home and help prepare with our loved ones,” said Campbell. “We’re thankful that Bethlehem worked with us to allow this.”
“I’m very happy we’re able to go home now,” added Hristov. “Soccer is our life and our passion, but there’s more important things in life. I’m happy we’re able to go home and take care of our families.”