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Tampa Bay Rowdies took control of their own destiny in the playoff race Saturday night with an edgy 1-0 win over the Carolina RailHawks in front of 6,973 fans at Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay’s win, paired with a 2-1 Indy Eleven win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers means that if the Rowdies win their season finale in New York next week, the Rowdies will qualify for The Championship, the North American Soccer League’s four-team playoffs. The Rowdies now lead the Strikers by one point in the Combined Standings.
Richard Menjivar scored the lone goal of the night in the 12th minute, firing a low shot from around 30 yards to put Tampa Bay into the lead. The Rowdies were unable to add to their lead and faced a nervy final 20 minutes, but did enough to preserve the clean sheet and earn all three points.
“I’d like to say I was standing there cool, calm and collected, but I wasn’t,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said of the final stretch of the match, when Carolina was on the front foot and looked likely to score. “It’s nice to be here having won the game in that matter, rather than standing here wondering about the chances that we missed. I’ve got to give credit to the whole team defensively, not just the back four. They showed tonight how much this game meant to them.”
Carolina attackers Tiyi Shipalane and Nacho Novo had several opportunities to score throughout the match, but each time, a Rowdies defender put his body on the line to block the shot or deflect it or close the shooting window. Each time a shot made it through to goal, goalkeeper Matt Pickens made the save.
“We had plenty of chances and got unfortunate with their goalkeeper making some good saves, but we played a great game tonight all over the field,” Rowdies defender Ben Sweat said. “Everyone was defending well tonight, so that was a huge boost.”
Tampa Bay could’ve scored another goal or two of its own, with Maicon Santos, Darwin Espinal and Georgi Hristov all among those who could’ve scored on the night, but Menjivar’s lone goal was more than enough for the Rowdies.
“I was actually looking to pass, but I saw the window open and decided to take a crack at it,” Menjivar said. “I had a feeling it was going to go in, I hit it well and luckily, it went in.”
With Saturday’s results in the book, the Rowdies now travel to New York next week to battle the New York Cosmos on Halloween night with a berth in The Championship on the line.
“If you had said to me Monday morning that come 10 minutes to 10 o’clock on Saturday night, that we’d be in control of our own destiny, I’d have absolutely snapped your hand off (to take the deal,)” Campbell (pictured above) said. “The whole team did great. Their effort, their application was exactly what I asked for.”
Next week’s match against the Cosmos is set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on October 31 at James M. Shuart Stadium at Hoftsra University. If Tampa Bay wins the match, it’ll advance to the playoffs. Fort Lauderdale visits Jacksonville Armada FC on Sunday, November 1 in its season finale.
Tampa Bay XI (4-4-1-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Rich Balchan, Tamika Mkandawire (c), Stefan Antonijevic, Ben Sweat; M Darnell King, Richard Menjivar, Justin Chavez, Darwin Espinal; M Freddy Adu (Marcelo Saragosa 90′); F Georgi Hristov (Maicon Santos 60′)
Carolina XI (4-2-3-1): GK Hunter Gilstrap; D Steven Miller, Futty Danso, Connor Tobin, Kupono Low; M Alex Perez (Wells Thompson 74′), Leo Osaki (Dzenan Catic 82′); M Tiyi Shipalane, Tyler Engel (Daniel Jackson 46′), Austin da Luz; F Nacho Novo
More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com