By JAKE NUTTING
For the third straight match, the Tampa Bay Rowdies found themselves trailing by a goal on Saturday night. This time it was St. Louis FC grabbing the go-ahead goal, but the Rowdies managed to rescue a point thanks to a late header from Neill Collins.
On a short turnaround from Wednesday’s loss in Rochester in which they had a sluggish start, the Rowdies came out energized in front of a crowd of 6,068 at Al Lang Stadium. The match had intensity from the outset, in part due to referee Danielle Chesky’s decision to show Leo Fernandes a yellow card five minutes after the opening whistle.
“I’ve been in this situation before, when you’re booked it takes a slight competitive edge off you because feel one wrong tackle and you could be off,” said Collins. “I think we’ll all agree that the game was very stop-start. We would have preferred a more faster flowing game. I think that set the tone in the first few minutes. When you give a yellow card at that time, it’s hard to go back.”
When the match was over, fives Rowdies players and three from St. Louis had been booked and 30 total fouls had been called. Most received the caution for tackles, some for dissent when they took issue with Chesky’s decisions. Coach Stuart Campbell didn’t feel the referee was favoring one side, just that the liberal use of the yellows impacted the flow of the match.
“I don’t think there was a bad tackle all night, really, on both teams,” said Campbell. “For me, a lot of the yellow cards were soft. I don’t think there was real malice or real intent on any of the tackles. Some of them, if not all of them, could have been avoided. Some of our guys got booked and it was their first offense, their first tackle. There were too many yellow cards. People on the outside will look at the game and think that was a nasty, aggressive game. It wasn’t.”
The match went into halftime with a 13th-minute free kick from Joe Cole that was just pushed over the crossbar by keeper Adam Grinwis as the only clear-cut chance of the first 45.
A few minutes after Tampa Bay’s shouts for a penalty when Cole was pulled from behind by a defender inside the box, St. Louis was awarded a free kick 20 yards from goal when Tamika Mkandawire was whistled for a foul. Jose Angulo’s strike from the spot sailed just over the wall and under the crossbar, catching Matt Pickens flat-footed in the opposite side of the net.
With a lead in hand, St. Louis began to throw more numbers behind the ball, making it more difficult for the Rowdies to find open channels into the offensive third. Campbell looked to break through by bringing forwards Georgi Hristov and Deshorn Brown off the bench in the 67th and 73rd minutes.
Despite the injection of attackers, it was the head of Collins that leveled things for the Rowdies in the 87th minute. The center back beat everyone to ball with a run to the near post to connect with an excellent corner kick from Michael Nanchoff.
“I thought we deserved the goal,” said Collins. “After a really tough week, it’s not the worst point. We’ve got to give (Saint Louis) credit. They’re a hard-working side and they came here with a good gameplan and well rested, so it’s not the worst point in the world.”
After equalizing, the Rowdies had trouble keeping the momentum going as St. Louis angled to run out the clock at every chance. Five minutes of stoppage time was signaled by the fourth official on the sideline, but only a little over three minutes ended up being played after two minutes was wasted so a St. Louis player could be treated close to the endline.
“It was a little frustrating tonight,” said Campbell. “The guys showed great resilience. We conceded a goal against the run of play when I actually thought we were going to score. We were on top, dominating possession and looking dangerous and then they had a moment of brilliance from (Angulo) from the free kick. We responded well. It would have been easy for the guys to feel sorry for themselves with some of the decisions that went against us. The guys didn’t. They kept going and got the goal they deserved.”
The Rowdies are back in action on Wednesday for a U.S. Open Cup match against Miami FC at Riccardo Silva Stadium.