ST. PETERSBURG — With two goals and an assist against Atlanta on Saturday night, Luke Mulholland matched Aaron King for the best performance by a Rowdies player since the team's re-emergence in 2010.
Unfortunately for the Rowdies, Atlanta's Ruben Luna and Pedro Mendes were just as impressive.
Luna and Mendes each scored twice, and Atlanta scored three unanswered goals after halftime to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory in front of an announced 3,575 spectators at Al Lang Stadium.
"Atlanta deserved to beat us," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "We were 3-1 up, yes, but we didn't merit that 3-1.
"We didn't play well in the second period. We didn't play well throughout the game to my expectations, so by being 3-1 up, it hurts more because we should have seen it through."
All three second-half goals by Atlanta (2-0-0) came in the first 25 minutes after the break. Mendes started the comeback in the 53rd minute with a 25-yard blast that eluded the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Andrew Fontein.
Atlanta tied the score at 3 10 minutes later when Luna beat Fontein and defender Jay Needham to a long pass near the edge of the box and slipped a shot into an open goal.
Mendes capped Atlanta's comeback by producing the winner in the 70th minute with a shot from a distance that a diving Fontein couldn't reach.
"That first goal goes in, and then everyone starts to get a little bit apprehensive," Hill said. "Then the second goes in, and now the slide has started, and it's hard to stem that slide when it happens. But with our experience that we have in our side, particularly in the defensive unit, I would expect us to do a better job than what we did (Saturday)."
The Rowdies (1-1-1) wasted the individual effort from Mulholland, who was named to the NASL's all-star team in 2012.
Mulholland assisted on the Rowdies' first goal, in the eighth minute, heading a pass from Amani Walker toward Evans Frimpong, who blasted a one-time volley past Atlanta goalkeeper Joe Nasco.
Atlanta tied the score at 1 in the 22nd minute on a goal from Luna, but Mulholland answered two minutes later. He received a cross-field pass from Georgi Hristov and shot past Nasco.
Mulholland scored his second goal two minutes before halftime after curling a 25-yard free kick inside the near post to give the Rowdies a 3-1 lead.
"Atlanta's first goal in the second half was the game-changer," said Mulholland, who equaled King's performance against Austin on Oct. 1, 2010. "If we score the fourth goal, it would have been game over.
"We came out strong in the first half, but their early second-half goal killed our momentum. The second half was up for grabs after their (first) goal, and they were able to turn the match around."
The Rowdies try to rebound Saturday when they travel to cross-state rival Fort Lauderdale.