Tampa Bay Sports Day

NASL: Avila Lifts Tampa Bay Rowdies Past RailHawks 1-0

The Tampa Bay Rowdies picked up a vital three points on a special night from start to finish at Al Lang Stadium with a tidy 1-0 win over the visiting Carolina RailHawks.

Eric Avila scored the golden goal on Go Gold night in St. Peterburg, beating RailHawks goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre in the 22nd minute off an assist from Darnell King. It was Avila’s third goal of the year.

In honor of Go Gold night, the Tampa Bay Rowdies made a $10,000 donation to John’s Hopkins All Children’s Night plus another $5,000 for the win. In addition, Joe Cole made a $1,000 donation for Avila’s goal.

“It’s great to be back home playing in front of our fans,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “They were superb again tonight the way they supported us, the noise they made and the encouragement they showed the guys. It was crucial that we got three points for them.”

Avila’s goal came on the Rowdies’ first great scoring chance of the match.

Fullback Darnell King took the ball on the right side and raced toward the endline before picking up his head and hitting a square ball back across the six-yard box. Avila, coming in off the left, cut behind Carolina’s Kareem Moses and put the ball past Sylvestre with his first touch to put Tampa Bay ahead 1-0.

“It always feels nice to win and adding the goal is a plus,” Avila said. “It felt really good tonight.”

Tampa Bay took 12 shots in the first half, but most were blocked or missed the target.

The RailHawks had a chance to equalize in the 39th minute, when Tampa Bay goalkeeper Matt Pickens saved Matt Fondy’s shot, but allowed a rebound. Fondy got a second crack at it, but was denied by Rowdies captain Tamika Mkandawire and the ball was cleared.

The Rowdies started the second half slow, but had another chance in the 52nd minute when Joe Cole took a hard shot from 25 yards out. Sylvestre dove to his left and got just enough glove on it to push it wide of the net.

Cole nearly got on the scoresheet again in the 63rd minute, spinning quickly and firing a shot from inside the box, but Sylvestre made a reflex save with his left foot.

Carolina tallied three shots on target on the night, but none were good enough to beat Pickens, who recorded his third clean sheet in four matches and eighth of the season.

Tampa Bay’s last great scoring chance came in the 86th minute when Carlos Preciado ripped a shot off the crossbar from 18 yards out.

Statistically, it was another dominant performance from the Rowdies, though the scoreboard remained tight and the Rowdies had to show grit to hold strong and defend their lead in the second half.

“The game in general slowed down in the second half, which we didn’t want,” Campbell said. “We spoke at halftime about approaching the game as if it was 0-0 and getting a second goal, but unfortunately we didn’t do that. We didn’t have to weather too bad of a storm, but they had a bit of possession. We did well.”

With the win, Tampa Bay kept pace in the race for The Championship, the NASL’s four-team postseason tournament. Minnesota United FC and Miami FC both lost on Saturday night, cutting the Rowdies’ deficit to just four points between them and Minnesota in the fourth spot in the NASL Combined Standings.

The Rowdies head to Fort Lauderdale next weekend for their final regular season meeting of the year against the Strikers. The Rowdies have won both previous matches against Fort Lauderdale in 2016.