ST. PETERSBURG — Hunter Gorskie enjoyed a smashing Tampa Bay debut, scoring the lone goal and getting in one of many crucial second-half clearances as the Rowdies held off visiting Charlotte 1-0 before an announced 7,786 at Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay (12-7-8, 44 points) pulled within four points of second-place Charlotte with two games in hand, and five left on the regular-season slate.
Gorskie, a defender acquired a month ago, was making his first start. His goal in the 33rd minute on Marcel Schafer's corner kick cleared the line by about a foot, but Charlotte goalkeeper Cody Mizell believed he had made the save.
"I knew it was in. I saw the goalkeeper was pretty far into his net," Gorskie said. "I had a clear header the (chance) before and I just said to myself, 'If it comes back to me I just gotta get it in no matter what,' so I just found a way to do it."
Tampa Bay caught a break in the 73rd minute as Charlotte substitute Yann Ekra's long blast rang off the right post. The rebound was easily tapped in, but since a Charlotte player was in an offside position on the original shot, the goal was disallowed.
It got even wilder shortly after as Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens went high to make a left-handed save on Charlotte's Enzo Martinez, and defender Darnell King went airborne to clear away another dangerous ball. Gorskie swept away a rebound minutes later as the Rowdies withstood a mad surge.
Charlotte held the majority of possession in the first half but the Rowdies supplied the most dangerous chances to score. Tampa Bay thought it had won a penalty kick in the 24th minute but instead an indirect free kick was awarded, and Charlotte's Lewis Hilton got in the way of Schafer's blast.
Tampa Bay nearly doubled its lead seven minutes after Gorskie's goal when Schafer passed to Martin Paterson but the shot was well over the goal. And in the 57th minute Schafer let loose a ripper from the top of the box that Mizell stopped.
In the 61st minute, Charlotte's Joel Johnson put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was negated by the offside flag. Eight minutes later, Rowdies defender Zac Portillos came up with a knockaway on an attempted Charlotte counterattack.
Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell praised the crowd for sensing the team needed an extra lift as Charlotte pressed forward in the final 10 minutes.
"They dragged us over the (finish) line," Campbell said.