Tampa Bay Sports Day

USL: Rowdies Advance to Eastern Conference Semifinals With 3-0 Win

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (FLORIDA SPORTS WIRE) — If Saturday night was any indication, the Tampa Bay Rowdies have some pretty big plans for the USL Cup Playoffs.

The No. 3 Rowdies were dominant in a 3-0 win over No. 6 FC Cincinnati, advancing to the USL Eastern Conference Semifinals with a pair of goals from Marcel Schäfer and a third from Georgi Hristov.

“You can just feel the (playoff atmosphere) in the air,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “It had a playoff feel about it and the noise the fans made was tremendous.”

The Rowdies will host No. 7 New York Red Bulls II at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, October 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the next round. New York upset No. 2 Charleston Battery 4-0 on the road Saturday night in the first round.

After a five-year drought from postseason action, it didn’t take long for the Rowdies to get the fun started.

In just the eighth minute of action, Schäfer received a pass from Hristov in the box and took a touch before firing a low, hard shot between the legs of Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt and into the net for an early 1-0 Rowdies lead.

Led by Schäfer, the Rowdies never looked back.

“At home, we’ve been very good and a lot of it is down to how we start games,” Campbell said. “We know they’re a really dangerous team. They had four really high quality attacking players on the field, so we didn’t want to give them any encouragement early on. I think from start to finish, we were excellent.”

Tampa Bay doubled its advantage in the 25th minute with Schäfer’s second of the night and seventh of the season. His shot from 25 yards out beat Hildebrandt again to put the Rowdies ahead 2-0.

“It’s always good when you start really early with a goal like that,” Schäfer said. “We had a great game today in front of our amazing supporters. This is like a home fortress for us and they’re our 12th man. … It was a special day for us. That’s what you work for.”

Up 2-0 at home, where the Rowdies have lost just once in 17 matches this season, Tampa Bay cruised to the finish.

If the result was ever in doubt, Hristov ended it in the 67th minute, curling a shot into the upper 90 from just outside the box for his team-high 14th goal of the year.

“It was great,” Hristov said. “It was a great game for us. We played very well and we defended very well. We won and we’re advancing to the next stage.”

The Rowdies’ domination of FC Cincinnati was thorough.

Tampa Bay managed eight shots on goal and allowed just one. It was Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens’ 10th clean sheet in 33 games this year.

Now, the Rowdies move ahead to face the defending USL Cup champions in the next round. Tampa Bay split its season series with the Red Bulls this year, losing 4-2 in New Jersey on Sept. 2 and beating them 3-2 at home on Oct. 4.