ST. PETERSBURG — For 60 minutes, FC Tampa Bay's inspired play effectively eliminated the memory of Tuesday's 4-0 loss at Edmonton, the worst defeat in the franchise's two-year history.
Facing Carolina, winner of five straight entering Saturday, Tampa Bay proved in front of 2,688 at Al Lang Field it's capable of battling with the NASL's best.
Tampa Bay held the edge in possession and created more danger in its attack. Its defense, with three of four regular starters injured and out, held NASL-league leading scorer Etienne Barbara in check.
But in the 62nd minute, a penalty shot was awarded to Barbara, who crumpled in front of the goal after making contact with Takuya Yamada. Carolina converted the kick in the 63rd minute, scored nearly two minutes later to go up 2-0 and beat Tampa Bay 2-1 for its sixth win in a row.
"I think (the RailHawks) know they snuck away with three points," Tampa Bay forward Aaron King said.
Tampa Bay (2-4-4) had seven shots on goal to Carolina's six at halftime and created multiple scoring chances against Carolina (8-1-1), the best coming when midfielder Mozzi Gyorio hit the crossbar on a 25-yard free kick in the 45th minute.
But Barbara put Carolina up 1-0 after he backed down Yamada deep into the penalty box and fell as he tried to spin away. The referee awarded the penalty, and Barbara drove his shot past goalkeeper Jeff Attinella (seven saves) for his 12th goal.
"I think it was extremely harsh," Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill said of the penalty. " … There's no way there was enough physical contact to bring (Barbara) down. … It's a very, very cheap penalty."
Tampa Bay surrendered a second score a minute later. Former Tampa Bay player Jonny Steele chipped a cross near the goal line, and forward Nick Zimmerman headed the ball into the net.
"I think we fell asleep slightly mentally, and we paid the price to go 2-nil down, which, again, was totally undeserved," Hill said.
Tampa Bay second-half substitute Aaron King earned a penalty in the 85th minute, and Mike Ambersley converted the kick — his team-leading third score of the year.
"Overall, I was happy with how we played," Hill said. "Unfortunately, it's not about being happy how you play, it's about getting some points on the board. We've come away with none again (Saturday), but lots of positives."