by JAKE NUTTING
The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ first road trip of the United Soccer League season got off to rough start on Saturday. An 89th-minute goal from Martin Paterson wasn’t enough to erase two earlier goals by Louisville City FC in a scrappy match on Saturday night at Slugger Stadium.
Coach Stuart Campbell was forced to pull from his bench 15 minutes into the match when keeper Akira Fitzgerald was injured on an innocuous sequence coming out to collect a ball. Fitzgerald immediately signaled for a substitution before he even hit the ground, paving the way for Matt Pickens to get his first action of the year.
Georgi Hristov had the first look at goal of the night as Michael Nanchoff picked him out inside the box with a long ball from the right flank. Hristov centered the ball with the first touch on his left foot and lifted his right-footed half volley over the bar.
Louisville knocked on the door just three minutes later but managed to bury its chance. Forward Luke Spencer bodied center back Neil Collins off the ball at the near post, took a beat and dished the ball to the top of the box for an unmarked George Davis IV, who slotted his shot into the back of the net.
Chasing the match for the first time this season, the Rowdies struggled to develop a rhythm in the choppy match and narrowly escaped being down two when Spencer ripped a shot from the top corner of the box that sailed inches over the bar.
Darnell King’s effort 25 yards out from goal moments before the halftime break was the only clear cut chance on net of the first 45. King blasted a knuckle ball straight down the middle that keeper Tim Dobrowolski could only block back into the center of the box where a defender was able to clear away.
The Rowdies continued to lack purpose in their possession moving forward for most of the second half. With a lead in hand, Louisville was willing to throw numbers in the box to close down passing lanes for the Rowdies, who looked to break through with long diagonal balls.
Louisville nearly doubled the lead again thanks to an errant header from Collins. Tampa Bay’s center back beat everyone to a free kick at the top of the six yard box, but instead of guiding the ball out of danger he directed it toward net. Pickens, though, made an outstanding diving save to deny Louisville a second.
Chances finally began to open up for the Rowdies in the final stages as Darwin Jones and Paterson entered for Nanchoff and Martin Vingaard. Jones especially helped create more, taking on players head on down the right flank and sending in crosses.
Jones came close to bagging a goal in the 82nd minnute. Finding a window of space at the top of the box, Jones fired a low shot that clipped a defender on its way to missing the frame by a hair. On the ensuing corner, Joe Cole’s service found Deshorn Brown on the back post and the forward was unlucky to see his shot across goal clang off the post and fall back into play.
As the Rowdies hoped to nab an equalizer with numbers forward, Louisville showed why it is such a potent team on the counter in the 87th minute. Substitute Cameron Lancaster timed a run perfectly to collect a pass near the halfway line and sprint by Collins. Pickens rushed off his line in an attempt to shut down Spencer’s window, but the attacker produced a clinical chip to finally give Louisville its second.
The Rowdies had a glimmer of hope two minutes later. One of their long diagonal balls finally paid off as Brown was able to poke a delivery from the left side back across goal for Paterson to tap across the line. The Rowdies’ rally fell short in stoppage time, though, and the they were handed their first loss of the year.
Things won’t be any easier for the Rowdies their next time out. They now head to Cincinnati for a Wednesday showdown with a team that just knocked of Saint Louis FC 4-0.
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