The Tampa Bay Rowdies hosted the New York Cosmos at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on Saturday night in a game that started off making me question why I sold my Counting Crows tickets (which was also last night) but ended with me chanting with Ralph's Mob.
The Rowdies were coming off last week's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico FC and an amazing bicycle kick goal from Joe Cole (which I missed the shot on) so I expected a similar level of excitement, however, the first half was a bit disappointing. After the coin toss I positioned myself on the Cosmos goal line hoping to catch a "play of the week" type goal similar to the shot I missed last week.
After the first 20-25 minutes I realized New York had their stuff together! Every time the Rowdies pushed into the Cosmo's zone they were overpowered by a strong and physical New York defense.
A couple of bad calls and missed calls in the first half had the crowd and the players voicing their disappointment with deafening yells and boos. You could tell by the end of the first half that tempers were reaching a boiling point.
At the start of the second half I moved to the sidelines so I could focus on both teams based on where the action was and to give myself a little bit more versatility on moving up and down the sidelines.
As the ball dropped on the second half I positioned myself near the Rowdie's goaltender, Matt Pickens, expecting a New York goal based on their performance in the first half as well as some of the bad calls. I proved to be correct when New York Cosmo's Daniel Szetela forced a whistle with his amazing Hollywood acting skills to draw a free kick goal on a frozen Matt Pickens.
After that bad call, which resulted in a New York goal, the fans and players were nearing their boiling point that was already being carried over from the bad calls in the first half.
After capturing that first goal with a very clean shot I decided to move more towards mid field to capture the action on either end and more of the fan reactions. After the side judge called a hand ball on Joe Cole that boiling point would soon explode with the Rowdies voicing their extreme displeasure as well as the fans by throwing small soccer balls given to fans earlier in the night at the side judge.
The Rowdies playing with a lot of emotion allowed another goal in the 67th minute by New York Cosmos player Yasmani Duk which I thought would take a lot of air out of the players and fans but instead just made them fight back even harder.
After a couple of corner kicks that were blocked by the Cosmo's goalkeeper Brian Holt it didn't look like the Rowdies were going to catch a break, even as Tommy Heinemann warmed up on the sidelines.
The Rowdies would catch their first break and goal of the night with a "own goal" forced by a hard shot on goal by Tamika Mkandawire and a follow up charge by Keith Savage.
The fans and player's energy exploded after this goal and even with less than 6 minutes in regulation time they kept pushing forward. At the end of 90 minutes it was announced that an additional 6 minutes would be added to the game. In the 94th minute the fuse of the fireworks was lit when Tommy Heinemann was fouled setting up a dramatic penalty kick!
Joe Cole takes Tommy Heinemann's place for the penalty kick, the fans hold their breath as Cole forces goaltender Brian Holt to flinch right.
The game ended less than a minute later sending fans rushing towards the field to get an autograph from back to back game star Joe Cole as New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese follows the officials off field arguing the last call.
At the end of the night, although it will go down in the record books as a draw, the fans and players would argue it was a win. A win for the fans, a win for the sport, and finally a win for the Rowdies who proved they could come back against overwhelming odds.