by JAKE NUTTING
The Tampa Bay Rowdies found a much-needed point at the Charlotte Independence on Wednesday night thanks to a tremendous late strike from newcomer Dominic Oduro that leveled the two sides at 2-2 with just a few minutes left.
“With circumstances that we’re in right now we wanted to be hard to beat and we were,” Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins said. “In the second half, I thought we came out and we were the better team and we were taking the game to Charlotte and bang, bang we were 2-0 down. You don’t always get what you deserve in football, but we stuck at it tonight. We scored two really good goals and at the end were pushing to win it.”
After a lighting delay pushed kickoff at Sportsplex at Matthews to 8:15, both the Independence and the Rowdies struggled to get their attacks into gear during the first 45 minutes. Charlotte held a sizable advantage in possession in the first half (65% to 35%), but the Rowdies defended admirably and limited the home side to just one tame shot on goal before the break.
With the Rowdies so focused on stymieing Charlotte, though, they neglected to produce scoring chances for themselves. Tampa Bay’s energy with the ball was too low, while the attack floundered due to slow transitions up the field and sloppy giveaways.
That energy immediately picked up in the opening minutes of the second half, as the Rowdies began to finally press into Charlotte’s final third with purpose. Despite the positive turnaround, though, the Rowdies quickly found themselves in a two-goal hole due to careless marking in front of goal.
Cordell Cato helped Charlotte nab its first of the night in the 57th, dribbling through a crowd of defenders on the right flank before delivering a cross for Jorge Herrera in front of the goal. Unmarked by any defender, Herrera easily slotted his first touch into the back of the net. Six minutes later, Cato notched his own after being left all alone of the right side of the box. Cato took one touch before blasting a shot right over keeper Akira Fitzgerald at the near post.
After Cato’s strike, Charlotte’s attack rarely threatened again as Tampa Bay took control of the match.
Tamika Mkandawire cut the home side’s lead in half after a tenacious effort by the Rowdies to bury a corner kick two minutes after Cato’s goal. Joe Cole kicked off the sequence with a shot from the center of the box that was deflected up into the air. Hunter Gorskie challenged for the ball in the air and got a nasty cut as he butted heads with a Charlotte player, directing the ball out to the right for Leo Fernandes, whose cross took a deflection off the arm of Lee Jung-Soo before falling for Tam to bang across the line.
Joel Johnson put Charlotte at a major disadvantage for the remainder of the match when he received two yellow cards in the span of three minutes. Johnson’s first caution was for needless time wasting on a throw in after Charlotte had already run time off with a substitution. The second came when Johnson made a tactical decision to impede a Fernandes’ breakaway without making an attempt for the ball.
The Rowdies made the most of the ensuing free kick on the left wing. Substitute Martin Vingaard played it shot to Alex Morrell, who dribbled toward the lone defender on the wing before dumping it back out for Vingaard. The midfielder’s left-footed cross caught a deflection off a defender’s foot that curled the ball out of the box for Oduro, who hit the ball in stride to rocket it past the crowd of defenders and the keeper.
A 90th-minute equalizer from @DominicOduro! #CLTvTBR https://t.co/GFOnGj1ZX3
“I feel so good,” Oduro said. “My teammates really helped me because there was a lot of encouragement there. I feel good because they kept me going. … When the ball was coming to me, I was just thinking that this should go right in. I was confident in my technique and I knew I was going to shoot. I did it and I’m very happy for that.”
Charlotte was reduced to nine men in stoppage time when Donnie Smith was shown a straight red card for an elbow to the jaw of Max Lachowekci. Even with a two-man advantage for the final five minutes, the Rowdies could not find a winner.
Oduro’s dramatic strike gave the Rowdies their first draw away from home of the season. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it’s a point the Rowdies will be content to take after last week’s frustrating loss to Penn FC at home. They remain outside of the postseason picture for the moment, sitting 11th in the USL’s Eastern Conference, and will hope to utilize their home matches with Toronto FC II and Louisville City next week to jump right back into the thick of things.