LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (October 4, 2018) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies let a major opportunity slip through the cracks as they dropped points in a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United 2 on Wednesday night.
The Rowdies could still reach the playoffs, but the door is creaking shut. The margin of error is now zero.
Here’s Three Things from the match…
1. A devastating draw
A win on Wednesday night would have seen the Rowdies move within one point of the playoffs in 10th place and it looked like Tampa Bay had gotten the job done with a 1-0 lead in the third of four minutes of stoppage time.
It wasn’t meant to be though, as Hunter Gorskie was whistled for a foul on an aerial duel just inside the Rowdies’ half. Atlanta’s Andrew Carleton swung in a decent free kick that Papé Diakité got a forehead to, but his clearance wasn’t good enough as the ball fell right to Miles Robinson on the six-yard box. Robinson put his shot on target and the Rowdies were unable to keep it out of the net.
With two dropped points in Atlanta, the Rowdies’ maximum possible points total is now at 47 points. The current playoff line is at 44, but is likely to move upward as North Carolina, Nashville and New York all have games in hand on the Rowdies.
If the Rowdies beat Charlotte and Bethlehem in their remaining matches to finish on 47 points, the following would also need to occur for Tampa Bay to reach the postseason.
Bethlehem must lose in Indianapolis on Saturday night and then to the Rowdies next weekend to finish on 46 points, one below the Rowdies.
Ottawa must draw or lose at home against Charleston this weekend in their regular season finale to finish on either 46 or 45 points, safely below the Rowdies.
With those two teams out of contention, Tampa Bay would need to finish ahead of one of North Carolina FC, Nashville SC and New York Red Bulls II.
Nashville has the easiest remaining schedule on paper with games against Richmond, Toronto FC II and Cincinnati still to play, so it should safely reach the postseason with something around 50 points in either fifth or sixth place.
North Carolina and New York play each other this weekend — assuring that at least one of them will drop points. North Carolina finishes at Louisville and at Charlotte. New York finishes at Penn FC and home against Pittsburgh. For the simplest scenario, assume North Carolina will beat New York at home this weekend. If that happens, and New York drops a total of three or more points from its final two matches, the Rowdies will reach the playoffs.
It’s still mathematically possible, but there’s no hiding from the truth: The odds are stacked against the Rowdies. Realistically, none of the permutations matter if the Rowdies don’t win both of their remaining two games. We’re about to see what this Tampa Bay team is all about.
2. Something from nothing
The Rowdies battered Atlanta’s defense for large stretches of Wednesday night, but just couldn’t find a way to put the ball in the net and take the lead. As the match was bordering on total frustration, the Rowdies’ breakthrough came from the most harmless of plays.
Tampa Bay goalkeeper Daniel Vega was fouled in his own box by an overzealous Devon Sandoval, giving the Rowdies essentially a goal kick about 100 yards from Atlanta’s goal. Vega booted it upfield as far as he could and an Atlanta defender headed it backward into open space for Guenzatti to run onto. It happened so fast, the broadcast nearly missed the goal.
Guenzatti took one touch off his chest and then fired a low shot past Atlanta goalkeeper Paul Christensen to give the Rowdies a lead at last.
For all of Tampa Bay’s possession in and around Atlanta’s box without finding a breakthrough, all it took was a simple long ball from the goalkeeper to break through.
3. Equalizer against the odds
Tampa Bay went into Wednesday night’s match having gone all season without conceding a goal in second-half stoppage time and the Rowdies picked a pretty bad time to give up their first.
In fact, giving up a lead at all is unusual for the Rowdies. Coming into the week, the Rowdies were 11-1-1 this season when scoring the first goal of the match. Tampa Bay has played better than its opposition in the second half of matches in 2018, outscoring opponents 27 to 24 after halftime.