ST. PETERSBURG — Georgi Hristov's penalty kick goal, the result of a long period of Rowdies dominant play, was the difference in Tampa Bay's 1-0 defeat of Orlando City B on Saturday night before a loud and record Rowdies crowd at Al Lang Stadium.
It was the first game for the Rowdies in the United Soccer League, and 7,710 were on hand. Tampa Bay's next two games are also at home, with Toronto FC II visiting next Saturday.
"The most important thing is we won in front of this unbelievable crowd," Hristov said.
Midfielder Leo Fernandes, in his Rowdies debut, sidestepped around two defenders and was taken down for the penalty. In the 57th minute, Hristov, who led Tampa Bay with 11 goals last season, drilled a high shot down the middle, and a diving Earl Edwards had no chance.
It was redemption for Hristov, who, in a three-minute span, left two first-half opportunities begging. In the 39th minute, Joe Cole's offering placed Hristov one-on-one with Edwards, but instead of a quick shot, Hristov tried to work around and was denied.
In the 42nd minute, Michael Nanchoff dropped a perfect pass to Hristov, but the shot went barely over the crossbar. In the late stages of the first half, Hristov broke in alone on the right wing but shot the ball wide left.
"I maybe wasn't happy with myself tonight, but was very happy with the team," he said.
At 1:05, OCB made its most dangerous push, but Danny Deakin's advancement was swallowed up by Rowdies goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald.
"I don't remember many 'heart in the throat' chances for them," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said, whose team played in the North American Soccer League last season.
Edwards made a stellar punch save on Cole's 30-yard chip shot in the 78th minute to keep it 1-0.
Cole departed shortly after the 90th minute as Tampa Bay's first substitution to a standing ovation. Hristov departed moments later as the Rowdies' starters played the bulk of the game.
The Rowdies finished with a 21-3 shot advantage.
"It was crucial to come out and get the first win," Campbell said. "It was if, not when" they would get on the scoreboard, he said.