The Tampa Bay Rowdies advanced to the 2012 NASL Championship Series after playing to a 3-3 draw in the second leg of the semifinals against Carolina on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium in Downtown St. Petersburg. With the 2-1 victory in the first leg on October 6th and the 3-3 draw tonight, the Rowdies defeated Carolina 5-4 on aggregate, advancing to the finals. Tampa Bay extended their undefeated streak to eight games, and are now unbeaten in their last 11 home games.
The RailHawks got in front early, with midfielder Floyd Franks scoring in the 14th minute after a feed from forward Matt Luzunaris. In the 18th minute, Carolina made it 2-0 after midfielder Ty Shipalane took advantage of a Rowdies defensive mistake and put the ball past Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
As the first half came to a close, forward Mike Ambersley was brought down in the box in the 39th minute. Midfielder Shane Hill took care of the penalty kick and decreased Carolina’s lead making it 2-1.
Forward Mike Ambersley scored in the 65th minute after Mulholland delivered a ball to him, leaving him wide open in front of Carolina’s goalkeeper Ray Burse. His powerful strike made the game 2-2, putting the Rowdies up 4-3 on aggregate.
In the 84th minute, Mulholland put the Rowdies up 3-2, making the aggregate score 5-3. He first struck the crossbar, but he was able to pick up his own rebound and score the go-ahead goal.
Carolina’s midfielder Nick Zimmerman scored the equalizing goal off a penalty kick in the 87th minute.
The Rowdies began pressuring Carolina in the game’s opening minutes, getting several chances in the box. In the 14th minute Mulholland took a shot from 19 yards out, but it hit off the cross bar.
In the ensuing Carolina counter attack, Franks sent a through ball to Luzunaris, who was able to slip the ball past Attinella, making it 1-0.
The RailHawks continued to look for the second goal of the night and capitalized on a Rowdies defensive mistake in the 18th minute. Shipalane intercepted a misplayed ball by the defense and put the ball past Attinella to increase Carolina’s lead.
With the Rowdies down 2-0, they were able to regroup and maintain their initial momentum. In the 22nd minute Tampa Bay’s forward Carl Cort took a shot from the left but it was sent out for a corner kick by the RailHawks goalkeeper Ray Burse.
Midfielder Stuart Campbell had a great chance in the 31st minute shooting from 23 yards out, but his shot went inches wide of the right post.
39 minutes into the match, Ambersley was brought down inside Carolina’s box and the referee awarded the Rowdies with a penalty kick. Hill capitalized on the penalty kick, placing the ball in the bottom left corner of the net out of the reach of Burse. The Rowdies cut the lead down to 2-1, while leveling out the aggregate score at 3-3.
The Rowdies got the tying goal in the 65th minute, after Mulholland fed the ball through to Ambersley, who drilled the ball past Burse for the 2-2.
In the 81st minute, Campbell came up with an incredible defensive save off a Carolina header. Campbell was perfectly placed on the line and cleared the ball off the line keeping the Rowdies leveled.
Mulholland scored the Rowdies third goal of the night in the 84th minute. His initial strike from inside the box blasted off the crossbar, but he was able to recover the rebound and strike the ball into the goal making it 3-2.
Carolina was awarded a penalty kick in the 86th minute, which midfielder Nick Zimmerman capitalized and made it 3-3.
Carolina Head Coach Colin Clarke said, " "It was a crushing defeat for us. We had our chances, specially in the first half, but Tampa Bay was able to regroup and capitalize on their chances. We really wanted to go back to Carolina with a final under our belt but I am proud of my team as they did everything possible to get the win."
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