The Tampa Bay Rowdies came close to avenging their heartbreaking 4-3 loss at Hofstra last October with their own late game rally, but in the end had to settle for a 2-2 with the playoff bound New York Cosmos.
Midfielder Evans Frimpong was the unexpected scorer for the Rowdies, notching his first two goals of the year. Frimpong has shown terrific pace and energy in all of his performances this year, but in this game it was on display for the full 90. The Ghanaian was all over the field frustrating the Cosmos midfield and defense throughout. He also had much fewer turnovers and the sloppy play that occasionally bring his game down.
The entire team though brought a high level of intensity despite being officially eliminated from the playoffs last week against Atlanta. That’s encouraging to see after moments where the commitment seemed to be lacking throughout this Fall season, most notably the atrocious 7-0 defeat to San Antonio. The team fought hard against Atlanta last week, but for the first 25 minutes against the Cosmos the Rowdies played some of their best soccer of the Fall Season. Their effort as a collective defensive unit was particularly exceptional. The Cosmos dominated possession but Tampa Bay made it difficult for them to get anything up to their forwards to create any dangerous opportunities The Rowdies were working hard without the ball to shut down any passing lanes and pressing hard for any 50/50 challenges. Keith Savage looks like he is getting back into the groove of central midfield after finally getting an extended run of matches in the role due to Shane Hill being sidelined.
With leading goal scorer Georgi Hristov suspended because of yellow card accumulation Luciano “Lucho” Olguín and Brian Shriver were the duo chosen to start up top in Ricky Hill’s typical 4-4-2 formation. Despite not scoring Lucho had without a doubt his best game for the Rowdies since signing during the Summer break. He looked quicker and more comfortable with the ball at his feet. The Rowdies were finally utlizing him as a strong link up man up top. Lucho did well in the role, receiving passes well and quickly finding the outlet to either his partner Shriver or one of the streaking midfielders.
The great run of play culminated in the 25th minutes when the 5.7′ Frimpong managed to put a head on a Russell free kick taken from about 40 yards out. Cosmos defender Ayoze failed to make a convincing effort on Frimpong and keeper Jimmy Maurer hesitated to long before sprinting off his line. Maurer couldn’t reach the ball in time and Frimpong ended up with an easy goal on an open net.
The Rowdies didn’t have much time to bask in the glow of that goal however as the Cosmos were able to equalize only two minutes later. Kyle Clinton, making his third straight match at center back had what appeared to be ample time and space to clear ball out of danger. However, he hesitated when he looked up the field and didn’t like any of the options he saw up field. Midfielder Sebastian Guenzatti pounced on Clinton and deflected his last second pass attempt into the path of teammate Hagop Chirishian. Chirishian took the ball down the line and seemed to have a difficult angle on goal. Unfortunately, Matt Pickens assumed Chirishian wouldn’t attempt a shot from such an angle and cheated towards the middle, expecting a pass across goal. Chirishian did well to recognize that Pickens gave up the near post and slotted the ball right past Pickens.
That equalizer instantly lifted the Cosmos spirits and the rest of the second half was all theirs. They began to pres higher up the field to pressure Tampa Bay in its own end, making more difficult to send quality service up to Lucho and Shriver. The Cosmos produced a few more chances with no results, including an open net sitter for Danny Mwanga that the forward couldn’t put on frame.
The second half had a promising few minutes, with Rowdies quickly penetrating well into the Cosmos final third. However, it didn’t long for things to go South. In the 48th minute, Kyle Clinton fouled Danny Mwanga’s halftime replacement, Mads Stokkelien in a dangerous area. Everyone knows that one of worst things to do when facing the Cosmos is to give Marcos Senna a free kick just outside the box. Sure enough, like it was second nature to him, Senna punished the Rowdies with a perfectly placed free kick that rose just over the wall and quickly dropped right into the upper right corner of the frame. Pickens saw the shot too late into its patch and really had no chance at saving it.
Taking the lead seemed to energize the Cosmos yet again. They were in need of a win to have a chance at securing the second seed in the playoffs so they were in no mood to let up and let the Rowdies back into the match. Tampa bay’s energy also began to dip and the players started sitting too far back in their own end allowing the Cosmos attack to build momentum.
Ricky Hill waited until the 69th minute to make his first substitution, Corey Hertzog came on for Lucho. He followed up with Lucky Mkosana for Blake Wagner in the 77th minute and Casey Townsend for Savage in the 83rd minute.
Mkosana was the only substitute that had a major impact on the game. He found space for himself on top of the box on two set pieces. On the first he sent a low driving shot that Maurer just managed to save. The second attempt sailed a few inches just over the bar.
The Rowdies equalizer came just as the fourth official indicated there would be 4 minutes of stoppage time. Maurer punched a cross about 35 yards out where Anthony Wallace took a touch and sent a hopeful ball straight back into the box. Like on the first goal, Maurer hesitated to come off his line and allowed the ball to bounce off the turf. The bounce wasn’t kind to him and the ball deflected off his chest right to Frimpong who was making the heads up play to follow the ball. Frimpong had another easy finish and secured a draw. The draw means the Rowdies winless streak increases to 9, however it does mean that there is no possible way they can finish on the bottom of the combined points table. A little victory, but a victory nonetheless.