Georgi Hristov is probably the most humble athlete to grace a professional sports venue. I’d ask him to confirm that, but he doesn’t like to brag.
“I really don’t feel comfortable talking about myself,” Hristov said. “So, it’s always about the team.”
Well, on Saturday night, it was really all about Hristov.
The Bulgarian native has broken a record for the modern era (since 2010) of the Tampa Bay Rowdies by making his 121st appearance for the club. This record was previously held by Takuya Yamada until Hristov entered the game in the 53rd minute during the match against Louisville City Football Club in Tampa Bay’s 2-0 win.
“I felt pretty confident,” Hristov said about entering the game as a substitute. “I’ve been working really hard this week and I’m trying to improve on things I wasn’t really happy with. I know it sounds a little cocky, but it’s how I felt.”
No need to apologize. He earned the right to be "a little cocky."
Hristov entered the match when the game was stuck in a drab 0-0 draw.
“The first half was tight, cagey,” coach Stuart Campbell said. “You could see it was two teams at the top of the league who were almost cancelling each other out.”
That uninspired first half was quickly turned around when Hristov set foot on the field at Al Lang. There was an instant jolt energy and motivation from his teammates, which led to a near goal after Hristov was on the field for scarcely a minute.
It only took six minutes of hard work, but Hristov found the back of the net with a wicked goal that rendered the goalkeeper utterly useless. It was Hristov’s team-leading fifth goal of the season, which also set a new goal-scoring record in the modern Rowdies era, topping off at 38 goals since joining Tampa Bay in 2013. His most famous goal may have come during the 2013 U.S. Open Cup in the Rowdies historic 1-0 win against the Seattle Sounders.
Only the legendary and mythical Rodney Marsh has scored more goals in a Tampa Bay Jersey. From 1976 to 1979, he scored 48 goals. Hristov is on pace to break that record this season.
He doesn’t like to talk about it, but he is a record-breaker, top goal scorer, Rowdies hero, and a motorcycle-loving, metal-head, father and husband.
“[The record] is not the most important thing,” Hristov said. “Breaking records is good … but it’s the team first, then all that individual award stuff.”
But what was important to Hristov was the team got a win that night.
“It was a great win against, for me personally, one of the toughest teams in the league.”
And tough they are.
Louisville issued the Rowdies’ first loss of the season back on April 15 and have remained undefeated this season until the Rowdies took revenge and walked away with a 2-0 victory Saturday night.
The first goal came from Hristov, while Deshorn Brown, who got the start of his offensive counterpart, scored the second goal after 72 minutes of play. Both goals were assisted by Joe Cole.
“Georgi is a top-drawer player and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with him,” Campbell said after the match. “We’re so fortunate to have him in our rank because he could play at the very, very highest level.”
Hristov’s unrelenting humility even gave him enough time to honor all the mothers on the eve of Mother’s Day this past weekend, including his wife, the mother of his son.
“It’s very special to be a mother, probably the most special thing,” Hristov said.
The Rowdies get a short break this week and will be ready to play at home again this Tuesday night, when the face the Jacksonville Armada U-23 side in the U.S. Open Cup, which features teams from all levels in U.S. soccer. Tickets are free; kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.