Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias shook his head glumly. There was no question in his mind.
"This was our worst performance," he said. "We gave up two ridiculous goals and that was the whole game."
His players weren't about to argue after the Tampa Bay Rowdies had ripped through Team America's defense for two early goals and cruised to a 3-1 victory before 7,131 tonight in Tampa Stadium.
Before tonight, Team America had yielded only five regulation goals in six NASL games. But Team America couldn't keep pace with the offensive flair of the Rowdies, who used goals from Luis Fernando, Manny Rojas and Tatu to get their first victory in three weeks.
Tampa Bay improved to 3-5 in the Southern Division and boosted its point total to 29, moving into second place ahead of Team America (3-4 with 21 points).
"We're young and inexperienced," said Panagoulias. "It was a difficult game for us. The Rowdies have some very experienced players. We need skillful players in the midfield, because it all goes down to skill and experience."
The Rowdies easily maneuvered through Team America's defense for the 2-0 lead. It took Tampa Bay little more than 11 minutes, thanks to Fernando and Rojas--and a disorganized Team America defense.
Rojas had a hand in the first score--two hands, to be precise. His throw-in was tipped by midfielder Mike Connell to Fernando in the middle of the penalty box. The stocky Brazilian made an eight-yard shot inside the left post for a 1-0 lead at the 5:19 mark.
Less than six minutes later, Rojas took a pass from Brazilian striker Tatu at the top of the penalty box. Defenders jammed his path, so Rojas curled a soft liner over the pack and into the upper right corner of the net at 11:06.
Team America suddenly confronted its biggest deficit of NASL existence. But it was eased before halftime thanks to a superb solo effort by winger Chico Borja.
Taking a pass from striker Andy Parkinson nearly 40 yards from the Tampa Bay goal, Borja weaved to the perimeter of the penalty box. He faked his way past central defenders Refik Kozic and Peter Nogly and got a shot past goalkeeper Tom Boric in the 36th minute.
It was Borja's third goal in four games and the first score by Team America in an opening half.
Chances of a comeback, however, faded quickly in the second half as Tampa Bay midfielder Eduardo Bonvallet passed to Fernando at the 18-yard line. He, in turn, pushed the ball toward the left side of the penalty box. Tatu met the ball on the run, beating goalkeeper Paul Hammond with a shot to the right corner 10:58 into the half.
Team America could have fallen behind by another goal, after midfielder Rudy Glenn tripped Fernando in the penalty box. But Nogly's penalty kick glanced off the right post with 13:23 left.