Rowdies Closing in on Postseason After Second Draw with Bethlehem

The Tampa Bay Rowdies moved another point up the United Soccer League’s Eastern conference standings with their second draw against Bethlehem Steel FC of the week. This time Bethlehem pulled ahead of the Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday through a goal against the run of play, but Sebastian Guenzatti came off the bench to notch an important equalizer.

With the draw, the Rowdies hold tight in fourth place and move closer to securing their first postseason berth since 2012. The Richmond Kickers could help the Rowdies clinch a postseason spot on Sunday if they record either a draw or win over Orlando City B.

“As I thought on Wednesday we should have won the game, I felt we should have won the game tonight,” Rowdies Coach Stuart Campbell said. “I felt there was only one team trying to win the game tonight. We were pressing and pressing and pressing and just couldn’t get that second goal.”

Leading scorer Georgi Hristov was suspended for the due to the yellow card he picked up on Wednesday in Bethlehem. Martin Paterson had an off night up top as Bethlehem isolated the striker with strong physical play every time the ball came near him. Paterson’s best opportunity of the night came in the 20th minute when he created a turnover that earned him a one-on-one with keeper Jake McGuire, but his shot failed him and the attempt sailed out of Al Lang.

Two minutes later, the Rowdies were let off the hook as an off-balance clearance from midfielder Keith Savage while trying to thwart a dangerous cross into the box whizzed just over the crossbar.

Hunter Gorskie looked to put the Rowdies up right before the break as Neill Collins headed a corner kick along to the back post, but Gorskie could not get under the ball on the rapid sequence and lifted his effort over the bar.

Bethlehem grabbed its go-ahead goal in the 56th goal. Tampa Bay switched off momentarily before the attack launched as the players all anticipated a whistle for Matthew Real’s high boot into the face of Alex Morrell. The whistle never came and five touches from Bethlehem later, the ball was in the back of the net. Seku Conneh capped the attack off with a deft first touch to separate from Collins outside the box and then rifled a low strike past Matt Pickens.

“Disappointed with the way we conceded the goal,” Campbell said. “In the buildup, I felt there was a foul on Alex. He obviously got, it was a high foot to the head, but it wasn’t given. We still should’ve defended slightly better.

“We made hard work it conceding early in the second half. That’s pretty much what they wanted. I can’t really think of any other shots or chances on goal. The first one they had they took it and it made it a little bit more difficult for us.”

The Rowdies picked up their intensity following the concession. Guenzatti’s insertion in the 64th minute proved critical. The attacker went on to net his first goal in the 80th minute since joining the Rowdies a few months ago.

Darnell King initiated the equalizing sequence by winning a free kick at the edge of Bethlehem’s box. Marcel Schäfer laid off the free kick to Morrell, who had his shot at the top of the box blocked. King, though, collected the rebound and sent in a beautiful cross that dipped down in front of the goal. Guenzatti lost his mark, chested the ball down and slipped a shot by McGuire.

“I’m always ready when the coach needs me,” Guenzatti said. “As a starter or a sub, you’ve always got to be ready. The ball came to me and the only thing I could do was put it in the goal and it felt really good. It was a great pass from Darnell.”

None of the increased pressure was enough to see the Rowdies to a winner. In the end, the Rowdies whipped in 37 crosses and earned 11 corner kicks on the night, but they only managed to guide three shots on frame. Bethlehem packed the box with bodies every time the Rowdies looked to send the ball in, making it difficult to finish off promising buildups.

“Even when they scored, when prior to us equalizing I thought we were gonna go on and win the game,” Campbell said. “I just had that feeling tonight, and the atmosphere in the stadium was great. The fans were driving us on and driving us on and when we got the equalizer I was convinced we were gonna go on and win the game. We were trying to win the game, they weren’t.”

The Rowdies return to Al Lang for a meeting with New York Red Bulls II. New York is a dangerous team that has won three of its last five and is on the verge of locking up a postseason spot as well. Even if the Rowdies are locked into a playoff spot by Wednesday, there is still plenty to fight for. A win would move them into second place, lifting them over the Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery.

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