by JAKE NUTTING
After a bitter loss in Louisville over the weekend, the Tampa Bay Rowdies — aided by a wondrous long-distance rcoket from Marcel Schäfer — fought to nick a point in 1-1 result in front of 15,244 fans at FC Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium on Wednesday.
Playing its second of three mathches in an eight-day stretch, Tampa Bay sat regulars Joe Cole, Georgi Hristov and Martin Vingaard on the bench.
Resting the starters didn’t impede Schäfer, who gave the Rowdies a boost just seven minutes into the match with a sensational strike from a little more than 30 yards out. The German veteran tried his luck with a dipping shot to the right side of the frame that smacked the inside of the post to cross the line, leaving keeper Mitch Hildebrandt with hands on his hips in disbelief.
The early goal kept the Rowdies flowing in the early stages. Cincinnati struggled to clear the ball cleanly out of its defensive end or get past Tampa Bay’s midfield. However, the Rowdies were unable to translate the positive play into another chance on net.
As the first 45 wore on, Cincinnati began to find the space and poise to build up its attack and stretch the back line. Jimmy McLaughlin nearly leveled the match with Cincinnati’s first dangerous chance of the night in the 20th minute. Cincinnati switched to the left side of the field with a ball into space for McLaughlin and the attacker was forced to strike quickly as Matt Pickens came off his line. McLaughlin fired a shot but Pickens denied him at the edge of the box with a vital kick save.
Luke Boden was then forced to step up to make a block from a threatening shot by Kadeem Dacres nine minutes later. Dacres initially stripped Boden of the ball and streaked toward goal, but the left back recovered to stymie the shot from the top of the box.
In the 36th minute, Cincinnati finally found its equalizer through the head of Harrison Delbridge. Kenny Walker delivered a corner on a dime to the center of the box for Delbridge, who beat Damion Lowe in the air to head home the ball with force.
Cincinnati continued to pressure the Rowdies out of the break, though they failed to test Pickens much. The keeper was only called on to make a save again in the 63th minute when substitute Daryl Fordyce took a shot inside the box. Pickens slid to knock the former Edmonton attacker’s shot away.
The match’s physical intensity picked up as Cincinnati increased its efforts to pull ahead in front of its home crowd and the Rowdies desperately tried to preserve at least a point. If anyone would’ve guessed, the Rowdies appeared to be the most likely candidate to pick up a red — they finished the match with 20 fouls compared to 11 from Cincinnati — but it was the home side that had to close out the match down a man.
Following a Cincinnati corner in the 75th minute, Deshorn Brown looked to launch the counter only to end up with Acres’ studs in his gut. Acres’ first touch got away from him, giving Brown a window to swoop in and swipe the ball away, and the attacker’s reckless challenge cost him.
Four minutes after getting the advantage, the Rowdies found three chances in quick succession. Brown had his first close-range effort blocked by a defender, his second thwarted by the legs of Hildebrandt, whose save fell to Justin Chavez outside the box. Chavez blasted a shot on frame, but Walker was in position to head the ball away.
Coach Stuart Campbell inserted Cole and Hristov moments later, but the duo could not help the Rowdies break through Cincinnati’s defense in the final 10 minutes of the match.
The Rowdies return home with a point from two matches and a date with the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night. With tonight’s draw, the Rowdies move back into first in the Eastern Conference standings. They are even at 10 points with Louisville and Saint Louis, but edge out those teams based on goal differential.
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