Rowdies vs Monarchs

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rowdies faced a tough task Saturday night, trying to bounce back from a humbling 5-0 defeat one week ago against a team in the Real Monarchs that hadn’t dropped a point all season.

The Rowdies were more than up to the task though, posting a 2-0 win at Al Lang Stadium, their third win in as many home matches this year.

Tampa Bay (4-2-0, 12 points) got goals from Joe Cole and Georgi Hristov in either half to send the Monarchs (4-1-0, 12 points) home with their first loss of the season. Hristov’s goal was his 57th strike for the Rowdies, tying Derek Smethurst for the Rowdies’ all-time scoring record.

It was the Monarch’s first loss in 10 regular-season matches dating back to last season, when they won the USL regular season title.

“They (Real Monarchs) are far and away the best team we’ve played so far,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “That’s no disrespect to any of the other teams we’ve come up against so far, but they’re an excellent team. It was a very good performance by us and we had to be at our very, very best to get these three points.”

In a meeting between two of the top teams in their respective conferences, genuine scoring chances were few and far between for the first 70 minutes of play. The teams combined for only five shots on target all night.

It wasn’t until the 40th minute that the Rowdies broke through, with captain Joe Cole outmuscling Real center back Michael Gallagher to set himself up with a one-on-one against Monarchs goalkeeper David Ochoa.

The Rowdies’ veteran was always favored to win that matchup, though Ochoa did nearly win the ball off Cole’s feet. Cole took another few steps sideways before a simple finish into the open net gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead just before halftime.

The Rowdies got off to a hot start in the second half, but Real slowly gained its footing and took control of the game away.

Tampa Bay goalkeeper Cody Mizell preserved the Rowdies’ narrow lead with a save in the 66th minute and his team rewarded him with a second goal just four minutes later.

Cole fed a through ball to Georgi Hristov near the corner of the box and Hristov tied Rowdies’ history with a first-time shot that beat Ochoa and went into the far netting for a 2-0 Rowdies lead.

“I’m happy,” Hristov said. “I want to dedicate this goal and this win to David (Najem), who was injured a week ago. This is for him. I’m happy for the win and I’m happy that I tied the record. … Most important, I’m really happy the way we played against a very, very good team.”

The Rowdies could’ve added a third goal a few times in the dying minutes of the match, but the job was already done and Tampa Bay was back to winning ways having seen off one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

Now, the Rowdies hit the road for a series of matches in Charleston, Harrisburg and Richmond before returning home to face the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in their next USL home match on Saturday, May 19.

Photo by Matt May/Tampa Bay Rowdies

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Edwin Garcia
Known as EdLose or EddyWins depending on the streak. One of the founding members of the Lemonsiders. World traveler and a walking database of unnecessary, useless sports information. I’m the cynical calming voice of reason on the show. I’m a creator of great things. Co-host and creative guru of Lemon City. I dish out the hot sports take on a daily, ask Hipster Rick. I LOVE uniforms and am a collector of vintage baseball caps.

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