ST. PETERSBURG — The trajectory of FC Tampa Bay's season, and a postseason filled with promise, changed in an instant Saturday night.
Tampa Bay, which entered its first-round NASL playoff game against Minnesota as the third seed in the six-team field, was hosting its first postseason game in the franchise's two years.
But when the final whistle was blown at Al Lang Field, Tampa Bay players fell to the ground, hands covering their faces, their season over with a 1-0 loss.
The deciding moment came in the 27th minute after a foul on defender JP Rodrigues.
Minnesota midfielder Luke Mulholland's free kick from the left of the penalty box deflected off the outside of Tampa Bay's three-man wall. Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella went right, but the deflection put the ball to his left, into the net.
"That's how thin a line between success and failure is," Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill said.
For a resurgent Tampa Bay team that went 8-4-4 in its final 16 regular-season games, the end was sudden.
"We had a great run, and now it just all comes to an end," defender and team captain Frankie Sanfilippo said.
"It sinks in now, but it definitely will in the next 48 hours. It's unfortunate, but there's always next season. We'll come back and do it again."
Tampa Bay's first shot on goal didn't come until Pascal Millien booted a ball right into Minnesota goalkeeper Joe Warren in the 57th minute.
Minnesota packed 10 men in the box after the half, but even though Tampa Bay, playing with just three in the back row, dictated the pace for most of the second half, it couldn't score.
Sanfilippo nearly scored in the 82nd minute on a shot just inside the box, but Warren made a diving save.
And two open shots from the right — one by midfielder Mozzi Gyorio and another by Sanfilippo — sailed just over the goal in second-half injury time.
"We're disappointed," Hill said. "Sometimes you need a little Lady Luck to go your way. I felt we ran out of it (Saturday night).
"I think we've had occasions where it's fallen for us. (Saturday night), it went against us."
Tampa Bay dominated Minnesota throughout the regular season, going unbeaten with two ties and two draws.
"They've definitely had our number," Minnesota coach Manny Lagos said. "We worked on a lot of things (last) week to try to get a better start.
"Getting that goal in the first half gave our guys confidence. I'm more proud of how we kept our shape against one of the top attacking teams in the league."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.