The Tampa Bay Rowdies were able to jump out to a lead thanks to the play of Fall Season additions Freddy Adu and Long Tan after an hour of scoreless play against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough to carry them to victory as Indy was able to equalize a few minutes later with a fluke sequence.
With Wednesday’s bout being the second of three matches in an eight-day span, head coach Stuart Campbell elected to make significant changes to his starting lineup. A thigh injury kept left back Ben Sweat out for the first time since the Spring Season. Rich Balchan shifted to Sweat’s position and Darnell King moved back to his old right back position to make way for Adu on the right wing. Long Tan also received his first start since joining the club up last week, playing up top with Georgi Hristov.
The Rowdies were able to create a bevy of chances in the opening 10 minutes of the game. Every touch that Adu made seemed to be positive one and he nearly picked out Tan in the 4th minute with a perfect cross from the endline that the forward was unable to redirect onto frame.
The two players switched roles six minutes later when Tan found Adu unmarked on the back post and the attacker was only denied by a terrific recovery block from Indy’s Dylan Mares.
Mares gave the Rowdies a wakeup call at the other end of the field when he used a tight window from outside the box to thread a shot through traffic that beat Matt Pickens but not the post.
Tampa Bay’s tempo dropped off after the opening stages and as Indy began to find their confidence. A lack of pressure without the ball, as well as some carelessness with it, from the midfield hurt the Rowdies chances going forward and allowed Indy to threaten on the transition
The Rowdies only came close again through two set piece plays from Adu. A 24th minute free kick found Stefan Antonijevic open on the back post, but his header sailed into the arms of the diving keeper. Adu tried his luck himself in the 34th minute with a 22-yard free kick that curled a foot wide of the top corner.
The sluggishness continued for both sides in the second half and the Rowdies were finally able to produce another chance when Adu spotted King with Space on the right side of the box. The defender cut a bouncing ball across net that Juan Guerra failed to strike confidently and went well wide. Corey Hertzog entered for a mostly invisible Brian Shriver a few minutes later.
Adu’s good service was finally capitalized in the 62nd minute. The attacker delivered an impeccable corner that dropped in the perfect spot for a wide open Tan, who made the simple finish.
The relief from finally putting the ball into the net didn’t last long.
In the 66th minute, Indy’s Duke Lacroix won a ball in the air at midfield and proceeded to streak down the field toward goal. In an attempt to recover, King stuck his foot in to disrupt Lacroix from 20 -yards out and appeared to make some contact with his plant foot. But the replay also showed that Lacroix may have already taken the shot before King even made contact. The referee originally saw nothing wrong with the sequence, but his assistant signaled for the foul and the free kick was given after some discussion.
The ensuing free kick appeared to harmlessly blast into the wall and out of danger, but defender Jaime Frias scooped the ball up and fired off a shot that deflected off a defender and slipped by a wrong-footed Pickens.
“In the past two or three weeks, I’ve seen some incredible decisions go against us,” said Campbell. “I’m gutted for the fans and the players because they gave me everything I asked for and we created chances but just couldn’t convert them. You look to take a 1-0 victory and move forward, but you get a decision like that. We got through the danger, but the guy hits a speculative shot and a deflection sends the keeper the other way.”
Tampa Bay held the advantage in possession for the remainder of the match, but they never got another truly good whiff at goal again. Indy would’ve stolen all three points in the 90th minute through a Don Smart close range effort if not for an excellent play from Pickens to cut down the angle.
The draw may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it is not quite the end of the world just yet for the Rowdies. The club is now even with Edmonton on points, but behind on goal differential by 4. No result is guaranteed in the NASL this league, so it’s reasonable to assume that the teams surrounding the Rowdies in the playoff race will have their own speed bumps.
The issue for the Rowdies is that their next two matches, essential must-wins, are against Minnesota United FC and Ottawa Fury FC, unquestionably the hottest teams in the entire league.
IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES