With the Rowdies’ 3-0 victory over FC Edmonton on Sunday night at Clarke Stadium in Alberta, they now control their own destiny.
The Rowdies have two games remaining with Carolina — one at Al Lang Stadium on Wednesday and one on the road on Saturday — and will clinch second place in the NASL standings with a win or tie in either game.
The Rowdies currently have 43 points and lead third-place Puerto Rico by three points after the Islanders secured a 2-0 win against Minnesota on Saturday. Puerto Rico has just one game left in the regular season, a home match against Atlanta on Sept. 22.
Carolina has an outside chance to pass both Tampa Bay and Puerto Rico with two wins over the Rowdies and a loss by Puerto Rico to Atlanta.
The Rowdies, who trail first-place San Antonio by three points after the Scorpions lost at home to Carolina on Sunday, could claim the regular season title if Tampa Bay were to beat Carolina in both matches and San Antonio were to lose to Atlanta on Wednesday and Minnesota on Sept. 23.
The Rowdies looked impressive against FC Edmonton and fielded a lineup typical of what they will need to be successful in the playoffs. The only regular starter missing was captain Frankie Sanfilippo, who was sidelined with an injury sustained in practice last week.
Forward Daniel Antoniuk scored on a header off a free kick by midfielder Luke Mulholland in the 21st minute to give the Rowdies a 1-0 lead and later contributed to Tampa Bay’s third goal in the 51st minute when he used his 6-foot-3 frame to head the ball back to Luke Mulholland for an easy score past FC Edmonton keeper John Smits.
Mike Ambersley scored the Rowdies’ second goal on a chip shot over Smits, who found himself out of position in the 43rd minute. Keith Savage came up with his fifth assist of the year on the play.
It was Antoniuk’s team-leading seventh goal of the season and his fourth assist. Ambersely knotted his sixth goal this season and Mulholland got his fifth goal on the 2012 campaign.
This is the type of lineup the Rowdies need to use going forward.
With the backline intact and healthy, the Rowdies have one of the best defenses in the league. Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella picked up his tenth shutout of the season and the Rowdies are a formidable unit with everyone in place.
Evans Frimpong, who made his fourth consecutive start, is playing with confidence and has found chemistry with Ambersley up front. Along with Mulholland, the three smaller players give the Rowdies the necessary speed and craftiness to create opportunities at will.
Antoniuk, along with 6-foot-1 midfielder Shane Hill and 6-foot-2 midfielder Keith Savage, offset the speedier players with the type of size and grit that give the Rowdies a sharp edge in character.
The Rowdies are unbeaten in nine out of their last 10 matches, including five wins. They are on a four-game unbeaten streak with two wins and two draws.
They host their last regular season match at Al Lang Stadium in a 7:30 contest on Wednesday.