Tampa Bay Sports Day

NASL: Cole Scores Twice as Rowdies Down Rayo OKC 2-0​

Joe Cole bagged a brace and the Tampa Bay Rowdies eased to three points with a dominant 2-0 win over Rayo OKC on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.

“It’s good to finally get the reward for our performance,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “I’ve stood here too often saying, ‘Well, we played really well but (didn’t get a result.)’ Tonight we played really well again but got the result. It’s really pleasing to see how the guys continually pick themselves up when things aren’t going for them. It shows the character, the togetherness and the team spirit is spot on.”

The Rowdies started the match on fire, causing trouble for Rayo OKC from the opening whistle. It seemed like Tampa Bay would take an early lead when Georgi Hristov was felled in the box and the Rowdies were given a penalty kick.

Cole stepped to the spot but his effort was saved by OKC goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes, one of his four saves in the first half.

“I need to thank the fans,” Campbell said. “When we missed the penalty kick in the first half, it would have been easy to sit there and think, ‘Oh no. Here we go again.’ But they didn’t. Straightaway the fans were back at it. They galvanized the team and the players bounced back.”

The first half felt like a repeat of last week, with the Rowdies controlling the match comfortably but unable to find a way past OKC goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes. Last week, Tampa Bay had nine shots on target but was stifled by Matt Van Oekel’s Player of the Week performance in goal for FC Edmonton.

This week, Cole made sure to change the script.

It was Cole that broke the deadlock in the 61st minute with a shot that deflected off OKC defender Futty Danso and the goalpost before making its way into the net for a 1-0 lead, snapping a 317-minute scoring drought for Tampa Bay.

“I feel we played well again tonight,” Cole said. “All credit to the staff and the players. It’s nice to score, but the main thing is the team wins. I’m all about the team.”

The Rowdies wouldn’t have to wait another 317 minutes for a second goal, with Cole tapping in his second of the night in the 70th minute after Georgi Hristov’s shot was saved by Fernandes to put the Rowdies ahead 2-0.

Tampa Bay totally dominated Rayo OKC on the night, tallying 23 total shots, including eight on target, compared to just one on target for the visitors. The Rowdies had 61 percent possession and completed 446 passes compared to just 290 for OKC.

Rayo’s lone shot on target came in the 50th minute with the match still tied at 0-0.

Former Rowdies midfielder Richie Menjivar had a point-blank shot saved instinctively by Pickens. It was Pickens’ sixth clean sheet of the season.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Pickens said. “It’s kind of like a Christmas gift you’ve been wanting for a couple years and then you finally get it. We’re finally getting rewarded for our effort and putting the ball in the back of the net.”

Tampa Bay will look to make it back-to-back wins in Indianapolis next weekend with a Saturday night showdown against the Indy Eleven.