FC Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill saw Saturday's regular season finale as an opportunity to build momentum heading to the playoffs. His team did its part, topping Ft. Lauderdale 2-0 in front of 3,226 at Al Lang Stadium.
"It was important for us to get three points tonight. It's important psychologically for the players," said Hill, whose team lost to Puerto Rico and tied Minnesota in its previous two games. "Jeff (Attinella) had a clean sheet (Saturday), which always helps with goalkeepers, so it's the best feeling we could have."
With the win, FC Tampa Bay secured the third seed in the NASL playoffs, and will host Minnesota Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the single-elimination quarterfinal.
"I'm hoping we have our players in the right frame of mind come Saturday, because there will be no regrets," Hill said. "… I think they deserved to finish third. We've played some good football in our last two home games (prior to Saturday) and we have one point to show for them. I urged them to get the three points (Saturday) and then we worry about whoever week get this week."
After a few near misses in a scoreless first half, things got interesting after halftime. In the 51st minute, Ft. Lauderdale defender Cristian Arrieta was sent off with a red card after a hard tackle on Tsuyoshi Yoshitake near the sideline, creating an 11-on-10 advantage for FC Tampa Bay.
"I thought it was a dangerous tackle," Hill said. "No malice, no intent. He thought he could get the ball."
The home team took advantage soon after, as midfielder Shane Hill, from around midfield, lobbed a beautiful pass to a wide open Keith Savage, who sneaked past the defense on a borderline offsides situation in the center of the box. Savage beat goalkeeper Matt Glaeser for his fourth goal of the year.
"I'm curious to see that video. I think I was real close to offsides," Savage said. "But we were coming. We were pressuring … I was in the right spot. It came right to me."
Matt Clare tacked on an insurance goal in the 91st minute. FC Tampa Bay hasn't lost to Minnesota this season in four meetings (two wins, two draws), but Shane Hill said his team isn't focused on the past.
"It doesn't count anymore," he said. "It's a new game, a knockout game. It's their cup final. It should be our cup final. We should be up for it."
Tampa Bay Rowdies
FC Tampa Bay tops Fort Lauderdale