Rowdies Settle for Draw in Bethlehem

The Tampa Bay Rowdies gave up two leads on in Bethlehem before settling for a point on hot and humid Wednesday afternoon match, extending their unbeaten streak to three and moving them one point closer to securing a postseason berth.

Neither team produced any attempts on net in the first half hour under the oppressive heat. The Rowdies had a few promising sequences in Bethlehem Steel’s defensive third, but their final shots continually let them down.

Tampa Bay finally got on the board with a chance from the penalty spot in the 36th minute. Coming out of a water break, Sebastian Guenzatti lost out in a battle trying to control a long ball that was landing outside Bethlehem’s box. Marcel Schäfer, though, charged forward to dispossess the defender and poke the ball into the box. The German then poked the ball backward as Aaron Jones was coming in to close him down, drawing the defender into a late challenge that solicited a whistle. Georgi Hristov drilled the ensuing penalty down the center of the goal as keeper Jake McGuire dove to his right.

A minute after Hristov’s goal, Bethlehem’s Cory Burke slid in with a harsh challenge in the middle of the field that ended midfielder Michael Nanchoff’s day. Keith Savage stepped in off the bench to replace Nanchoff and Burke was flashed a yellow card for the rough tackle.

Burke gave Bethlehem its first equalizer of the match as the first match of the second half came to an end. From the left wing near midfield, Matthew Real played an absolutely perfect first-timed ball into space between the back line for Burke to race toward. The striker made the most of the run behind the back line, slotting his shot past Matt Pickens on the left edge of the box.

Schäfer dragged the Rowdies back out in front only nine minutes later with a pinpoint free kick delivery to the far post from 35 yards out. Center back Hunter Gorskie made an effective run to the far post to make Schäfer’s service count, tapping in his third goal in four appearances. All three tallies have come on set pieces.

The Rowdies shot themselves in the foot, though, in the 78th minute. Under no pressure, Hristov needlessly gave the ball away in Tampa Bay’s defensive end with a poor first touch to the center of the field. Adam Najem stepped in to poke the pass forward for substitute Seku Conneh, who raced into the right side of the box and fired a shot by Pickens.

Any point earned on the road as the United Soccer League season winds down is a valuable one. However, the Rowdies will again be frustrated to have let another opportunity at three road points slip through their fingers. They remain in fourth place heading into the Saturday’s rematch with Bethlehem at Al Lang Stadium, but still have a crucial match in hand on the Charleston Battery (third) and Charlotte Independence (second).

Jake Nutting
Writer at Large for The Unused Substitutes and NASL Beat Writer for Empire of Soccer. Fullbacks are people too.