The Tampa Bay Rowdies celebrate winning the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies are the new NASL champions thanks in large part to NASL Best XI goalkeeper Jeff Attinella who made three saves in a penalty kick shootout which decided the outcome of the match on Saturday night. Attinella, a Clearwater, Florida native, thrilled 6,208 fans at a sold out Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg by making 6 saves in the course of the 120 minute match, which was necessary after the Rowdies scored 3 goals to the Stars’ 1 in the course of regulation play. The score set the aggregate total to 3 goals apiece forcing two 15 minute overtimes to decided the match. Despite being up a man after the 89th minute ejection of the Rowdies’ Shane Hill on a nasty tackle on Simone Bracalello, Minnesota was not able to take the upper hand. With the score still 3-1 Tampa Bay after overtime, the game went to penalty kicks.
The Stars’ Neil Hlavaty made the first kick but so did the Rowdies’ Luke Mulholland. Attinella blocked the next two shooters for Minnesota, Devin Del Do and Kyle Altman, while Tampa made their next two taken by Raphael Cox and Fafa Picault. Simone Bracalello buried his chance deep in the net and Tampa’s Carl Cort’s shot was turned away by Stars keeper Mat VanOekel, leaving a glimmer of hope for the Minnesota. But Attinella came up big again for the Rowdies blocking Lucas Rodriguez’ shot and capturing the 2012 NASL Soccer Bowl trophy for Tampa Bay.
The Stars started slowly in this match that saw the Rowdies attempt to break down the left side of Minnesota’s defense which worked for the most part. And from the right offensive side it was Keith Savage who forced VanOekel off his line to stop the unmarked midfielder. The ball fell to Cort who made no mistake burying the shot and putting Tampa ahead 1-0 in the 25th minute. VanOekel was called upon time and again to keep the Rowdies from scoring again with 6 saves being necessary in the first half.
After a poor first half for the Stars they regrouped and played better out of the gate. But it was the Rowdies again who scored in the 51st minute from Savage who finished off a cross from former Minnesota player Andres Arango. The 2-0 lead brought the aggregate total level at two apiece.
To the Stars credit they rallied quickly and Lucas Rodriguez, who had substituted for an injured Jamie Watson, finished his chance just two minutes later after getting a feed from Miguel Ibarra, bringing the score to 2-1 Tampa but putting Minnesota back on top 3-2 on total goals.
Minnesota seemed to be getting stronger as the minutes ticked off and the full ninety approached. But with a late Rowdies surge they took a 3-1 lead and evened the aggregate at 3-3 when Daniel Antoniuk finished a Mike Ambersly chip in the 85th minute.
The Stars’ Amani Walker tries to get his head on a ball that’s punched away by the Rowdies’ Jeff Attinella who came up big time after time for Tampa. Photo by Jeremy Olson – www.digitalgopher.net
A red card was shown to Tampa’s Shane Hill in the 89th minute which forced Tampa to play a man down for both overtimes. But the NASL Championship was not in the Stars this year as Tampa played resolute defense and shut out Minnesota in overtime and forced the game to PKs.
“I thought Tampa Bay created chances and I thought we created chances. It could have gone either way,” said Manny Lagos after composing himself from an earlier tearful tribute to his team on the live stream broadcast. “I thought it was a coin flip and that we did enough. But obviously it wasn’t quite enough. But these guys need to get their heads up. It’s an amazing group and they’ve had an amazing two year run of pushing the level — the quality of soccer. I can’t say enough about what this group of guys has done to put Minnesota on the map for soccer and to help the rebirth of the NASL – how they’ve represented the league. God, my guys have been amazing the last two years.”
Stars team captain Kyle Altman was more subdued than Lagos and more specific in pointing out the problems they had in the match. Fighting through emotion, team captain Kyle Altman said, “They got a goal at a good time. They scored 25 minutes into the game and got the early goal. That’s the one thing we couldn’t do. We let up at the back 5 minutes from time of wining the national championship game. We failed to win the 2nd ball after winning the first and next thing you know it’s a scramble in the box… it’s just disappointing. It’s all our own doing.”
“He’s a good keeper [Attinella], he made good saves. Mine [PK] was just a mental f-up, a lack of confidence when I went up there. I didn’t hit the ball the way I wanted to and unfortunately it hit him in the leg. It’s a position we’ve been in before, last year with Carolina. Unfortunately we just didn’t come though.”
Altman made special notice of the Dark Clouds and all the traveling supporters who made the trip. “We can’t thank them enough. They are out here battling Ralph’s Mob for us on their grounds. It was very uplifting. We have the best fans in the league — they showed that tonight. It’s just disappointing that we couldn’t bring a championship back to them because they deserved it.”