ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In a match that defined the word intense, the Tampa Bay Rowdies came out on top, 3-2, over the Jacksonville Armada FC at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night in the clubs' first-ever regular season meeting.
In front of a crowd that sounded much louder than the announced attendance of 5,461, the clubs traded momentum in each half and laid the foundation on what could make for a strong instrastate rivalry.
After the Rowdies went up 1-0 on a penalty kick from Tampa Bay's Maicon Santos in the 12th minute, Jacksonville took control of the rest of the half and seemingly sucked the life out of the home crowd.
The Armada FC (1-2-0) answered in the 14th minute when Flores drew a penalty and tapped in a rebound off his penalty kick attempt to knot the score at 1-1. Johnson sent Armada FC fans that made the trip into a moment of euphoria in the 31st minute when he blasted a shot from 20 yards out that tapped the upper right post and trickled into the goal to give Jacksonville a 2-1 lead.
After the Armada FC went into halftime on a high note, Tampa Bay answered back with the equalizer in the 59th minute when Rowdies midfielder Martin Nunez beat Gallardo on a curling shot from 16 yards out.
Tampa Bay (2-1-1) retook the lead in the 77th minute on header by Maicon Santos on a
Georgi Hristov assist.
Despite trailing 3-2 with the minutes waning, the Armada FC continued to create chances that Rowdies goalkeeper Kamil Contofalský consistently shut down. Jacksonville's last chance in second half stoppage time missed the top of the goal by inches when defender Fabricio Ortiz's shot made enough contact with Contofalský's fingertips.
Tampa Bay's win gave them three points to pull even with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the Coastal Cup standings. The Rowdies also pulled into second place in the North American Soccer League Spring Season table.