Tampa Bay Times

Rowdies ready for USL’s defending champs

- BY DAREK SHARP Times Correspond­ent

ST. PETERSBURG — They lost their final regular-season match and could have been watching the playoffs from home had a couple of other final-week United Soccer League results gone differentl­y.

But forget all that. Despite coming into the playoffs seeded seventh out of eight teams in the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls II appear to be well-suited to defend their league championsh­ip.

The Rowdies try to end that quest, and extend their championsh­ip aspiration­s, when the teams meet in the conference semifinals tonight.

Though Tampa Bay’s 3-0 blanking of Cincinnati in last week’s quarterfin­al game was downright dominant, New York’s 4-0 triumph at No. 2 seed Charleston might have surpassed it.

“Listen, they’re the defending champions of the USL. They’re not going to give up their title easy,” Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said.

As worrisome as the New York showing might be, it did provide the path for Tampa that ended it regular season, New York had scored at least twice in each of its previous eight games.

Tampa Bay hasn’t been shut out in 17, nor has it lost in eight.

“We’re very attack minded, both of us as teams,” Campbell said. “Both defensive units are going to have a busy night.”

The Red Bulls got goals from four players last weekend, including Stefano Bonomo, who leads the team with 11. New York beat the Rowdies 4-2 at home Sept. 2; Tampa Bay prevailed 3-2 against it at home a month later.

Tonight’s winner plays either top-seeded Louisville or No. 4 Rochester in the East final Nov. 4. If the Rowdies and Rochester win, Al Lang would again be the site.

Hristov and the Rowdies are just focused on tonight’s game, expecting the crowd to be a factor again.

“It was nice; they were amazing,” Hristov said of last week’s game. “I will definitely say, for the first time in awhile, they were so loud the whole game. It was really helping us.

“They’re our 12th player. And I hope (tonight’s) going to be even crazier.”

 ?? LUIS SANTANA | Times ?? Marcel Schafer has four goals in his past two home games.
LUIS SANTANA | Times Marcel Schafer has four goals in his past two home games.

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