The Tampa Bay Rowdies increased their unbeaten run to eight straight matches with a 1-1 draw at Western Conference leader El Paso Locomotive on Saturday night. Tampa Bay opened the scoring in the second half with a Jake LaCava strike, but the hosts responded just ten minutes later to level the match.
It’s the second time in three weeks the Rowdies have finished in a 1-1 stalemate with a top Western Conference side. The Rowdies also ended knotted with Sacramento Republic FC back at Al Lang Stadium two weeks ago.
“Like the Sacramento game, tonight’s game felt more like a playoff game,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “Two good sides trying to feel each other out, both with real strengths. Where we’re at now, we could have won both those games but there are a couple things we need to just push on with. The boys are doing a lot of things right. It’s just about doing more of those things right more often in games. It’s another good test for us, and it’s important we learn those lessons.”
The Rowdies kept their hosts pinned in their own half of the field throughout most of the first half but failed to create any meaningful looks on goal. Instead, it was El Paso who earned the first threat on frame of the night when Nick Hinds fired a low shot for the bottom right corner that Rowdies keeper Connor Sparrow stretched to parry away.
Tampa Bay’s go-ahead goal came only eight minutes in the second half. Penetrating from the right edge of the box, Sebastian Dalgaard fired in a cross that was punched out by keeper Benny Diaz but directly to the feet of LaCava, who calmly buried the rebound. It’s the first tally for LaCava since returning to the Rowdies on loan from Inter Miami CF last week.
“Jake took his goal really well,” said Collins. “Once JJ Williams started doing the things he does well, then it brought Jake into the game really nicely. Jake looked a real threat and it could have been two for him, but his fitness levels are fantastic. To come in and play 90 minutes like that says a lot. Hopefully we can just build on that performance.”
El Paso answered in the 63rd minute. A clearance out of the back rolled to Denys Kostyshyn in the middle of the field and the Ukrainian made the most of the opportunity with a long-distance effort that took one hop off the grass before slipping past Sparrow.
The Rowdies made just one change in the second half, swapping out midfielder Yann Ekra for Jake Areman in the window between LaCava’s goal and El Paso’s equalizer. Collins was limited to just five available subs in El Paso due to a handful of injuries throughout the squad.
“We did have great options on the bench, just not as many as we normally would have,” said Collins. “Ryan Spaulding and Sebastian Dalgaard worked so hard. Maybe being able to freshen up on the outside would’ve helped but they kept going until the death. Credit to the lads and their fitness level tonight.”
Both sides had their chances to pull ahead in the final stages yet neither could find the decisive pass or finish in front of goal.
“It’s a mixed feeling,” said Collins. “…We had moments where if we’d had just a little more quality on our final ball or maybe if the ball had bounced our way on a set piece we could have won it. It would have been a great win, but ultimately it’s a good point in a very difficult place.”
Next up, the Rowdies travel to take on Loudoun United FC on Saturday, June 24 at 7 p.m. ET. Loudoun sits 9th in the Eastern Conference standings after a 2-1 win over Miami FC this weekend. Meanwhile, the Rowdies remain third in the east, three points back of Charleston for the top spot.
TBR – LaCava, 53rd minute
ELP – Kostyshyn, 63rd minute
TBR: Sparrow, Antley, Lasso, Guillen, Doherty, Ekra, Dalgaard, Dennis, LaCava, Spaulding, Williams
ELP: Diaz, Navarro, McCue, Pavkovics, Borelli, Kostyshyn, Rose, Calvillo, Gomez, Solignac, Hinds