Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Rowdies/Matt May
Down two goals on aggregate, the Tampa Bay Rowdies were in need of a big performance in order to pull themselves back into the NASL Championship Series.
They got just that and more en route to pulling off a dramatic and entertaining penalty shootout victory that gave them their first NASL title.
The 10-man Rowdies defeated Minnesota Stars FC, 3-2, on penalty kicks after claiming a 3-1 win in the second leg of the series in a game played in front of a crowd of 6,208 at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night. The hosts scored late in regulation to pull level on aggregate at 3-3 and they went down a man just before the 30-minute extra time, but they fought through that and forced a shootout against the defending champion Stars.
There, Tampa Bay goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was the hero. Attinella made three saves in the shootout, stopping Devin Del Do, Kyle Altman and Lucas Rodriguez to lift the Rowdies to a win.
The hosts, who were down 2-0 on aggregate after losing to sixth-seeded Minnesota in the first leg last weekend, began their comeback when Carl Cort netted in the 25th minute. Keith Savage then pulled Tampa Bay level with a goal six minutes after halftime.
Unfortunately for the Rowdies, the joy of clawing back into the championship series was short-lived. The Stars jumped out ahead on aggregate again less than a minute after Savage’s goal, with Lucas Rodriguez finding the back of the net to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead on aggregate.
In desperate search for another equalizer, Tampa avoided a loss when substitute Daniel Antoniuk beat Stars goalkeeper Matthew VanOekel four minutes from the death.
Shortly thereafter, the Rowdies went down a man when Shane Hill was sent off. But that did not come back to haunt the hosts, as they got through extra time to force the penalty shootout that ended with them on top.
What do you think of the Rowdies winning the NASL Championship Series? Surprised by the Stars’ inability to seal the deal? Impressed with the quality of the game and how entertaining and dramatic it turned out to be?
Share your thoughts below.