ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - The North American Soccer League Soccer Bowl has a new home.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies earned the 2012 NASL crown after a thrilling shootout victory Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium, beating the Minnesota Stars FC 3-1 to tie the aggregate goal series, then prevailing after Jeff Attinella made three saves during penalty kicks. The Rowdies held on through the entire extra time period despite playing a man down.
The Stars, trying to repeat as NASL champions and leading in total goals after winning 2-0 a week ago in Blaine in the first of the two-game series, knew the Rowdies would be pressing from the start, and they had a storm to weather in the first half. The pressure paid off for Tampa Bay in the 24th minute, when Carl Cort converted a rebound after Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel blocked Keith Savage's shot from 14 yards out for a 1-0 lead.
The Rowdies got the series-equalizing goal right away in the second half. Former Stars back Andres Arango nodded a header down, which Savage turned in at the back post to send the crowd of 6,208 into a frenzy.
Stars substitute Lucas Rodriguez hammered his first touch past Attinella at 51:51 to cut the margin to 2-1, but Rowdies leading scorer Daniel Antoniuk came off the bench to snatch an 85th-minute goal that brought the series level on aggregate.
The Stars couldn't score in the 30 minutes of extra time, even after Tampa Bay midfielder Shane Hill got a red card for a reckless challenge and put the Rowdies a man down, and Attinella was brilliant in goal in the shootout.