It was a situation that players like Diego Restrepo dream of.
With the Tampa Bay Rowdies down to 10 men and less than five minutes to play in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, he saved a penalty kick from Seattle Sounders Designated Player Obafemi Martins to seal the game to the Rowdies and end Seattle’s 22-game Open Cup unbeaten streak.
Once Georgi Hristov gave Tampa Bay the lead in the 75th minute, Restrepo knew the Rowdies were going to win the game, but he gave a lot of credit to the organization and the 4,124 fans in attendance.
“The whole Rowdies organization did a great job advertising the game,” Restrepo said. “The fans were unbelievable. I give a lot of credit to the fans, having the 12th man really helped.”
The penalty was caused after a shot from Martins deflected off the arm of Rowdies defender Jordan Gafa, who was sent off with a red card.
The first thought through head coach Ricky Hill’s head wasn’t about winning the game, it was thinking strategies heading into overtime, but when Restrepo made the save it was an added bonus.
“We were at that stage where I was thinking tactically,” Hill said. “I was preparing for extra time. I was delighted when Diego made the save. When we went down to 10 men I kept a 4-3-2 shape, but after it was tied I went with a 4-4-1 to keep a clean sheet.”
Last season, the Rowdies won the North American Soccer League in Hill’s second year at the helm.
Now, with many players out with injuries and other new faces around the squad, Hill said the Open Cup has produced a lot of excitement with the fans and the organization.
“Every year players will come and players will go, I’ve managed to keep a nucleus from last year,” he said. “We’ve been without four or five of our championship winning side from last year. It’s a lot of excitement in that franchise. The Rowdies have come back in the league this season.”
The team faces another Cascadia team in the fourth round of the 100th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when they travel to Portland, Ore. tonight to take on the Timbers.
Rowdies defender and captain Frankie Sanfilippo has been playing in the Open Cup for 10 years, and upset the New England Revolution to get to the semi-finals with the Carolina RailHawks.
“We want to go into Portland, where they have unbelievable fans, and give it our best,” Sanfilippo said. “We just have to keep the same mentality. This team has an idea about what we want to do and we have an identity. It’s a great opportunity to showcase what we want to do. This is a great opportunity for everyone and we’re excited to go there.”
At the beginning of the season Hill said the team met and tried to establish some big goals, with one of them being to advance further than expected in the domestic tournament.
With a win tonight, the Rowdies would accomplish their goal and go further than any Tampa Bay team has in the Open Cup.
“I’ve always worked from the mantra that if we go there and we believe that we can win, we can,” Hill said. “We shouldn’t have the inferiority complex. I’m looking for us to go there and give a run for their money.”