by JAKE NUTTING
What a week it’s been for everyone’s favorite Bulgarian.
It took Georgi Hristov only four days to equal his goal total from the last two years, lifting the Rowdies to victory with three goals combined in the U.S. Open Cup win over FC Cincinnati and in league play against Ottawa Fury FC.
The sudden burst in scoring was a welcome sight for those who maintained faith that Hristov still possessed the quality that helped him notch 12 goals and eight assists to take home the NASL’s MVP honors in 2013.
“It feels great,” Hristov said of the way his side came through a busy week unscathed. “It’s tough to play three games in one week and we won all of them. I have to say that the whole team, all of the guys, have been working really, really hard. They work so hard and this win is for all of us.”
Hristov is humble in his postgame comments, but the attacker’s growing confidence in his form is clear, with his opening goal against Ottawa being a prime example. The sequence was meant to be a play from the training ground, with Hristov receiving the ball from Kalif Alhassan and then laying it off for the midfielder as he streaked across the box.
He called it an “instinct” after the match, but Hristov was likely also feeling assured in his ability to finish off the opportunity when he chose to keep the ball and charge in himself.
“[Georgi] had confidence going into the game, so getting two goals today, to me, is not a surprise,” said Alhassan. “As I played the ball I wanted it back, but Georgi saw something different. So I had to leave it for him and he had a good run and a good finish. That was a really nice goal.”
We’re fully prepared to buy in to the idea of a return to top form for Hristov, and his coach seems pleased to see his former teammate take hold of the moment after an inconsistent preseason.
“Any player will tell you, and I’ve been there myself, when you miss preseason it puts you back,” said Stuart Campbell. “I can’t overemphasize how important it is for players to come through a whole preseason, not just for the start of the season, but for the whole duration of it. Georgi’s kept his head down, he’s worked and worked, and when he’s had his chance he’s gone and taken it. I’m delighted for him.”
Embrace the Hristov Hrenaissance (Copyright, @UnSub_Matt)
Joe Cole Carving Up Defenses with A Dinged up Ankle
We’d be remiss to not mention perhaps the biggest patron of the Hristov Hrenaissance, Joe Cole. Making his fourth straight start, Cole came up with a gorgeous assist to Hristov to regain the lead just a few minutes after Ottawa leveled it up through a lucky deflection.
Watch how Cole catches Ottawa’s defenders off guard with his quick acceleration and then straight up makes one of the league’s best center backs, Rafael Alves, look like his boots are stuck in poutine gravy with a slick cut inside before slotting a perfect ball to Hristov.
Joe Cole doing Joe Cole things…
Check out his assist on last night's game-winning goal. pic.twitter.com/Z39JFrb5Dx
— Tampa Bay Rowdies (@TampaBayRowdies) June 5, 2016
And it turns out Cole pulled that nifty move off with a dinged up ankle. He suffered the slight ankle knock a few games back, but it finally forced him to be subbed off for the first time on Saturday. Campbell is optimistic that Cole will be available in time for the spring finale in Jacksonville, though.
“[Joe’s] had a little bit of an ankle knock for a couple of weeks now, but you wouldn’t know it the way he’s playing,” said Campbell. “Lot of credit to him to keep going and then there was an incident in the first half… You can get kicked anywhere on your body, but you always seems to get kicked on the sore point. He had that and we were aware of it at halftime, so we spoke and said just keep going for as long as you can. We’re confident, with a week now to the next game, that he’ll be fit for next Saturday.”
Spring Season Race Alternate Timeline
Remember this moment?
Stuart Campbell sure does. The significance of that blown offside goal to deny the Rowdies an equalizer in their match with the Cosmos three weeks ago was on the mind of Campbell following his team’s win and New York’s failure to clinch the Spring Season earlier in the night.
“To tell you the truth, I’m looking at what happened in New York a couple of weeks ago and it’s making me even more frustrated with the call that went against us,” he admitted. “But that’s gone to the side now, so we’ve just got to go out there next week and take care of our business.”
Campbell has to remain civil, but we’re under no obligation. It’s a damn shame that the Cosmos will be able to back into the spring title and the postseason spot that comes with it thanks to a wrongful offside call (oh, and Minnesota completely choking with three straight losses). The Rowdies can only steal the title next week if they manage to beat Jacksonville by at least five goals and score six or more to jump New York on tiebreaker (Full spring title scenarios here).
Putting aside the green and gold bias for a second, though, the ripples throughout the league had the Rowdies been able to draw with New York would have been massive. The Rowdies would be even with the Cosmos at 16 points with a game in hand, but the five teams directly below them would have also been in the thick of the hunt. It could have set up an epic final weekend of the spring. Instead, we’re stuck with the Cosmos waiting to see if any one of the three teams still alive can pull off a miracle.
More Steady Growth in Attendance
Last night’s match with Ottawa was the fifth and final home match of the spring and there was another healthy crowd in attendance to take in the win. 6,078 came out to see the Rowdies, giving the team their second highest number of the spring. Only Joe Cole’s debut against Rayo OKC outdid that number with 6,702, only a few hundred away from an official sellout.
The Rowdies didn’t record a sellout at Al Lang this year, although they did outpace last year’s Spring Season average in the stands. 5,779 fans packed the stadium on average this spring, a slight uptick from last year’s 5,700. This year’s average would have been much stronger had it not been for some miserable weather limiting the home opener to only 5,740.
Zac Portillos Update
The soccer gods can stop messing with Zac Portillos anytime now. If you missed it, the team confirmed everyone’s worst fears on Saturday, revealing that the left back will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Portillos was diagnosed with a ruptured left Achilles tendon and already underwent surgery on Friday.
This is a cruel setback for Portillos, who sustained a rupture to the opposite Achilles tendon early in last year’s Spring Season and fought his way back into a starting spot this year. Portillos played 446 minutes in five starts this year before going down late in last week’s win at Minnesota.