TAMPA — Saturday night's home debut of the new Tampa Bay Rowdies ended with soccer's most imperfect result — a draw.
But after more than two years of building to bring professional soccer back to the bay area, the tie was just part of what was deemed a success.
Not that owner and team president Andrew Nestor didn't have his worries about how the Rowdies' great unveiling would pan out.
"I spent most of the week monitoring weather.com every two minutes, torturing myself looking at that 30 percent chance (of rain)," Nestor said. "And it finally went down to 10."
When Saturday evening arrived, a sellout crowd of 8,082 fans dressed in green and gold filled the stands of Steinbrenner Field. The "Loudies" band played the old Rowdies theme song, and most important, the Rowdies managed to escape with a point.
Playing down a man for the last 30 minutes, the Rowdies scored with five minutes left to earn a 2-2 tie with Austin.
New Zealander Jeremy Christie converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute, shooting past Austin's Miguel Gallardo.
"When you look at the bigger picture of the game, it's disappointing not to win the home opener, but I'm just happy we got a point," Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish said. "We could be up against them for a championship or for the playoffs, and we took two points away from them as well.
"You like to win your home games, but I think it's more important not to lose them."
A red card against defender Rob Valentino forced the Rowdies (1-1-2) to play with 10 men for most of the second half.
The Aztex (3-1-1) were awarded a penalty kick at the 60th minute when Valentino was called for a hand ball in front of an open net after a scramble by the left post. The hand ball prevented a goal.
Austin forward Jamie Watson converted with a shot that went in off of goalkeeper Daryl Sattler's hands.
The Rowdies dominated early and late.
After midfielder Stanley Nyazamba's shot deflected off the crossbar in the eighth minute, forward Aaron King gave the Rowdies a 1-0 lead on a penalty kick in the 10th.
Austin tied the score on Eddie Johnson's penalty kick in the 28th minute.
There were only a few bugs in the opener — take away the scoreboard game clock failing in the 58th minute. On the field, the Rowdies struggled to create offense down the near sideline, where the baseball dirt infield runs from the end line to midfield.
"You've got to be smart," midfielder Pascal Millien said. "We all know that's our first week playing on that dirt, so you've got to make sure you're smart. The ball is going to go faster whenever it comes.
"But at the end of the day, it was all about the game."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at [email protected]