ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 22, 2016) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies had too many hills to climb Saturday night and couldn't quite get over the top, suffering elimination from playoff contention after a 1-1 draw against the Ottawa Fury FC in front of a tremendous crowd of 7,641 on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.
With Rayo OKC's 2-0 win in Fort Lauderdale over the Strikers on Saturday night, Tampa Bay needed a win to stay alive in the playoff race heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
Ottawa's Maxim Tissot put his team ahead in the 27th minute. Georgi Hristov equalized for the Rowdies in the 48th, but shorthanded, Tampa Bay didn't score a game-winning goal.
"It was an eventful night and it'll take a while to digest," Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. "We were hoping that we were going to sneak a goal and we nearly did late, but there's just a lot of frustration for our season to end in the manner that it did. I give a ton of credit to the guys in the locker room and the crowd that pushed them on, but in the end, we just didn't score enough goals."
The Rowdies couldn't have asked for more adversity on the night, being reduced to 10 men midway through the first half when Darnell King was shown a straight red card, and then losing one of its most influential attackers, Eric Avila, to an injury less than 10 minutes later.
"It was an emotional night," Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens said. "The guys fought their tails off. We lost (Avila), we lost Darnell to the red card, we're down a goal but the guys kept fighting through everything that was happening. The guys pushed and pushed and pushed and I'm proud of the guys and the coaching staff that all tried so hard tonight. ... I'm just really proud of the effort. I couldn't be prouder to be a Rowdies player today, even though we didn't get the three points."
After a choppy start, the match turned in the 26th minute when a long pass sent Fury FC forward Ryan Williams in on goal, chasing the ball toward the corner flag to collect. Just outside the 18-yard box, King made contact with Williams and was ejected from the match.
On the ensuing free kick, Tampa Bay's wall blocked Carl Haworth's shot, but Tissot latched onto the rebound and sent a bouncing ball that bobbled over Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens' dive and into the net for a 1-0 lead and a man advantage.
Tampa Bay was forced to alter its gameplan shorthanded and with the loss of Avila to an injury in the 35th minute that forced an eight-minute stoppage in play while he received medical attention.
Just after the halftime break, the Rowdies found their lifeline, with Hristov on the receiving end of a silky through ball between Ottawa's lines from Justin Chavez which was finished past Fury FC goalkeeper Romuald Peiser and into the side netting to level the match at 1-1.
Hristov could've put the Rowdies ahead just four minutes later when he had a breakaway, but Peiser advanced off his line to shut the play down before Hristov could shoot.
Down a man for more than an hour, the Rowdies showed grit and determination to pull ahead and win the match, but Ottawa stifled every chance.
Tampa Bay had three shots on target in the second half and nearly scored a winner late when a corner kick induced chaos in Ottawa's 6-yard box, but eventually, the Fury FC was able to clear the ball.
Both teams had a player sent off in the closing minutes of the match, which ended 10 vs. 9.
"Maybe if those things that happened in the first half don't happen, we end up winning this game," Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens. "We came up short again and we're all disappointed. We just needed a little more help. There's a lot of things that went into that game tonight."
Tampa Bay wraps up the 2016 regular season next Sunday, October 30, with an afternoon game against the Jacksonville Armada FC.
Ottawa Fury FC: Maxim Tissot - 27th minute
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov - 58th minute
Tampa Bay: Darnell King - 26th minute (Red Card)
Ottawa: Onua Obasi - 44th minute
Ottawa: Eddie Edward - 45+ minute
Tampa Bay: Matt Pickens - 45+ minute
Ottawa: Rafael Alves - 70th minute
Ottawa: Eddie Edward - 90th minute (Second Yellow - Red Card)
Tampa Bay: Georgi Hristov - 90th minute (Red Card)
Tampa Bay XI (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens (c); D Darnell King, Neill Collins, Stefan Antonijevic (Carlos Preciad 29'), PC; M Justin Chavez, Juan Guerra; M Eric Avila (Keith Savage 43'), Joe Cole, Georgi Hristov; F Tommy Heinemann (Michael Nanchoff 46')
Ottawa Fury FC XI (3-4-3): GK Romuald Peiser; D Eddie Edward, Rafael Alves (c) (Mallan Roberts 76'), Onua Obasi; M Kyle Porter, Lance Rozeboom, James Bailey (Thomas Stewart 84'), Maxim Tissot; F Carl Haworth, Giuseppe Gentile (Gerardo Bruna 65'), Ryan Williams