Tampa Bay Sports Day

NASL: Hristov Bags First Rowdies Hat Trick In 4-1 Win over Strikers

LAUDERHILL, Fla. — Georgi Hristov notched the first hat trick in the modern era as the Tampa Bay Rowdies powered to a dominant 4-1 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Central Broward Regional Park on Saturday night.

Tampa Bay fell behind early, but dominated the match, with Hristov’s three goals and one from Tommy Heinemann completing the scoreline.

In addition to the first hat trick in Rowdies history, Tampa Bay also pulled off another first — sweeping the season series against the Strikers for the first time. Tampa Bay won all three meetings this year by a combined score of 7-2.

With the win, Tampa Bay put an end to Fort Lauderdale’s seven-game unbeaten run and extended its own streak to five games unbeaten.

“It was a huge game for us not just because it’s the Rowdies against the Strikers, but because of the importance to the playoff chase,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We spoke about how important this game was and we’re absolutely delighted to come away with three points.”

For such an important game, it didn’t start well.

Ramon Nunez put Fort Lauderdale ahead in just the fourth minute, but it was all Rowdies from there.

Hristov leveled the match in the 15th minute, tapping in an inch-perfect low cross from Joe Cole in the 15th minute. The Rowdies never looked back.

“I feel great,” Hristov said. “I feel great about the three points first and foremost. I’ve always said it’s about the team first. I’m happy for the three goals, but it wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for my teammates. We had some great chances. Carlos should’ve had that last one himself. We played really well tonight against a good team.”

Tommy Heinemann put the Rowdies ahead in the 36th minute, receiving a lovely through ball from Justin Chavez and chipping it over Fort Lauderdale goalkeeper Bruno to put Tampa Bay up 2-1.

Hristov scored in the 43rd and 83rd minutes to notch his hat trick, putting in rebounds off saved shots taken by Darnell King and Carlos Preciado, respectively.

Fort Lauderdale had a spell early in the second half when a goal seemed imminent. At one point, the Strikers earned six corner kicks in the space of about two minutes, but the Rowdies stood firm.

“We knew the Strikers would come out and put us under pressure early on in the second half, which they did,” Campbell said. “We stood firm, we withstood the pressure and were real men tonight.”

Tampa Bay’s win, paired with a 3-1 Ottawa Fury FC win over Minnesota United FC, sees the Rowdies move to within a point of fourth place in the Combined Standings and a berth in the playoffs. The Rowdies entered the weekend four points behind the Loons and tied on points with Miami FC and the Strikers. All three of those teams lost.

The Rowdies now return home for a huge showdown with Miami FC at Al Lang Stadium next Saturday night, October 1.