ST. PETERSBURG — In a vital home match against NASL bottom-dweller Atlanta on Sunday, FC Tampa Bay twice squandered a one-goal advantage.
Once Tampa Bay grabbed its third lead, the team dug in.
Second-half substitute Aaron King produced the winning goal four minutes before the end of regulation, and Tampa Bay desperately defended as Atlanta pressed late into stoppage time in a 3-2 Tampa Bay victory.
"We've been playing really well … but we just haven't finished out games," King said. "It was excellent to be able to finish out that game in front of a great crowd (Sunday night)."
Before 2,319 at Al Lang Field, Tampa Bay (3-4-4) collected three points in a game that seemed destined to end in a draw.
Tampa Bay made three offensive-minded substitutions with the score tied 2-2, and the team was rewarded when Frankie Sanfilippo, making his team-leading 11th start, sent a long cross from the right wing toward the far post. Waiting on the other end was King, who one-timed a volley with his right foot past goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer (14 saves).
"It was such a good ball that I felt like if my swing was proper, it was going in," King said about his first goal of the season.
King's goal was a relief for forward Mike Ambersley, who scored twice but missed out on a hat trick and a chance to put his team ahead again when his penalty kick in the 70th minute was stopped by Maurer.
"Really happy for King getting his first goal of the year," Ambersley said. "He's deserved it, and what a time to score. He picked me up there, and I owe him a beer."
In a rarity this season, Tampa Bay scored the first goal.
In the 31st minute, midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake dribbled into the box near the goal line and crossed the ball to an unmarked Ambersley, who sent a left-footed volley on a bounce past Maurer.
Atlanta (1-2-8) evened the score three minutes later on a set piece when Ciaran O'Brien's free kick from 35 yards away was headed in by Willie Hunt.
After halftime, Tampa Bay forward Warren Ukah slotted a shot toward the far post in the 54th minute that required a diving save from Maurer. Ambersley, though, pounced on the rebound and scored to give Tampa Bay its second lead.
Atlanta's Jordan Davis tied it in the 64th minute when he blasted a shot into the upper corner of the goal off another set piece.
"We've got to do better not fouling in dangerous positions," Ambersley said. " … We're fouling way too much, and that's just a sign of being a little lazy, I guess."
And for Tampa Bay, defensive lapses on set pieces didn't tarnish this result as has happened in previous games.
King's late winner gave Tampa Bay its first victory in four games, and all three of its wins have come at Al Lang Field. The team plays its next two on the road.
"Whenever we've gone down, they've always fought back," Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill said. "We've got good character on this side."
Bryan Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.