ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Orlando City B opened up its 2017 USL season by going into rival territory. The first I-4 Derby since Orlando City’s 2014 U.S. Open Cup victory took place in front of record crowd of 7,710 in Al Lang Stadium. However, the game finished differently than a few years ago as the host Rowdies came away with the 1-0 victory.
A large portion of the fans were Orlando City traveling supporters and they gave the team something to fight for. Tommy Redding even gave a special shout out to the supporter groups after the game.
“It’s amazing, I can’t ask for anything more from the fans so thank you for coming out,” he said.
It was Tampa Bay’s first I-4 Derby win in seven tries against an Orlando City side.
Georgi Hristov’s spot kick in the 57th minute was the game’s only tally, set up by a Leo Fernandes run through the OCB defense that forced goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. to come off his line and foul the former Philadelphia Union man. However, without Edwards it could have been much worse, as the Rowdies finished with 21-3 (5-1 on target) and the OCB keeper made three outstanding saves to prevent any goals in the run of play.
“Earl was fantastic. He has been great since he has been with us, “ OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis said after the game. “When he has been in training with us, he has been fantastic. I’ve been really, really pleased with him. Tonight, I thought he kept us in the game and (I’m) disappointed for him that he was the one that gave up the penalty kick, but on the whole I thought that he was outstanding.”
The Rowdies dominated most of the first half, as OCB looked slow and was continually caught without numbers back to defend. The first big chance of the half came after just one minute. Tampa Bay had control of the ball going down the left wing, but Conor Donovan was able to clear the ball out for a Rowdies corner. On the ensuing corner, OCB easily defended it and the first chance of the game was over.
The game was back and forth from that moment on, and in the fifth minute, Danny Deakin won the first foul of the match. The ball went down OCB’s right hand side but former Lion Luke Boden was there for the Rowdies to clear it from danger. OCB won back the 50-50 ball and held possession for a short while before Richie Laryea took a long shot that was easily caught by Tampa Bay keeper Akira Fitzgerald.
The game continued to go back and forth, each team defending well and immediately going on the counter. Edwards was called into action for the first time of the night when a perfect through ball to Marcel Schafer led to a one-on-one with Edwards on the keeper’s right side. Schafer took the shot across the face of the goal, which had all the home supporters thinking they went ahead but Edwards made a diving fingertip save to keep the game scoreless.
For the second half of the first 45 minutes the Rowdies were in full control as OCB made many unforced errors and failed to maintain possession. Tampa Bay out-shot the Lions, 13-2, in the first half, and could have went up by multiple goals if not for Edwards.
Orlando City B came out much better, and looked the best of the night to start the second half. However, the story of the second half was similar to the first, and Tampa dominated the match, but Edwards was the Man of the Match for the young Lions and kept his team in the game.
In the 56th minute, Tampa finally found the breakthrough. Joe Cole took possession of the ball towards OCB’s goal, but Donovan stopped the former Chelsea man’s attack. Fernandes picked up the loose ball and took on the entire OCB defense before coming in one-on-one with Edwards. As Fernandes touched the ball toward the end line, Edwards brought him down in the box for a penalty kick. Hristov confidently took the kick straight down the middle for the game-winning goal.
After the goal, OCB was re-energized for a little bit and nearly had the tying goal in the 65th minute. Pierre Da Silva made a killer through ball into the Rowdies 18-yard box that left Danny Deakin free. Deakin was just a half second too slow, though, and Fitzgerald came sliding out and ended the Lions’ attack.
From there, Tampa went back on the attack. The Rowdies put in three crosses from OCB’s right side in the next five minutes, but all were confidently dealt with by the Lions.
In the 78th minute, Tampa had its next big chance of the game. Cole found space down Tampa’s right side and looked into the middle of the field and saw his teammates following up. He attempted to be tricky and took a shot disguised as a back-post cross from way out wide, but Edwards barely got a hand on it to punch the ball over the crossbar.
“I thought that my guy would have tracked [Cole] down eventually, so I just held my ground seeing the guy running down the back post,” Edwards said. “I knew it could have been a cross and Joe Cole, having the class that he has, he went for one. I was able to keep my feet and get there.”
Ten minutes later, Cole broke free once again. Off an OCB corner, the Rowdies defended well and went straight on the counter. With OCB throwing all numbers forward, Tampa only needed three passes to send Cole on a breakaway against Edwards. Edwards was ready for it, though, and made the save, keeping the Rowdies’ lead to just one.
The Lions tried bringing on offensive players Albert Dikwa and Austin Martz, but could not fashion a good scoring chance to tie the game.
Although clearly disappointed with the result, both Pulis and Edwards seemed positive about how the Lions played.
“The positives for me was the reaction to going a goal down,” said Pulis. “I thought the boys dusted themselves off and got back on with the game.”
“It was a good starting point for us,” Edwards added. “I thought we did well building out of the back, other times it seemed a little bit forced.”
Former Orlando City fan favorite Luke Boden made his Rowdies debut tonight, and was cheered on not just by his home supporters, but the traveling Lion supporters as well. Bodz was just one of eight players that moved up with the Lions from USL to MLS, and went on to make 45 MLS appearances in purple. PC, who was one of nine Orlando City players recently loaned down to OCB, also got the start against his old team.
“There definitely was some emotion,” said Boden about playing against his former team. “I was [in Orlando] for six years and there definitely was some emotion. I spoke to Lewis [Neal] and we talked about family, but when we are on the field we are competitive. I spoke to him again after the game. It was very good seeing him.”
OCB returns to action on Thursday, March 30 at 7:30 p.m., as taking on Louisville City FC in the new Orlando City Stadium.