ST. PETERSBURG — Since its re-emergence in 2010, the Rowdies have never gone more than two games into a season without collecting their first victory.
Three weeks into the 2014 NASL season, the Rowdies are still searching for their first win.
After playing to a draw in their first two matches, the Rowdies lost 3-1 to Atlanta in front of 4,670 at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night.
"When you have to score two, three to win, it's very difficult," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "I swore this year that we wouldn't go down that road, that we would be more defensively strong, and we're not at this moment in time."
For the first time this season, the Rowdies (0-1-2) trailed after Atlanta scored in the seventh minute. Blair Gavin sent a pass from midfield to the right wing, where Junior Sandoval was waiting unimpeded. Gavin took a touch into the box and rifled a low shot inside the far post past goalie Matt Pickens.
"We fell asleep after five minutes, and they just played a nothing ball behind our back players, and (it) ended up in our net," Hill said.
Atlanta (1-2-0) had an opportunity for a 2-0 lead when the referee spotted a Rowdies handball in the box and awarded it a penalty kick. Sandoval took the penalty, but Pickens read the shot correctly, diving to his left to block the ball.
Georgi Hristov, last year's NASL most valuable player, used a bit of nifty footwork to score his first goal of the season in the 15th minute to draw the Rowdies even. Midfielder Darel Russell eyed Hristov in the middle of the box and whipped a pass to the Bulgarian striker. Hristov collected the ball, whirled around to avoid a defender and shot low to the near post to beat goalkeeper Derby Carillo.
Atlanta retook the lead in the 26th minute on a set piece. From the midfield stripe, Gavin launched a pass into the middle of the box, and Jaime Chavez outfought the Rowdies' defense to push a header past Pickens and give the Silverbacks a 2-1 advantage.
"Unfortunately, instead of pushing more and trying to win the game, we stepped back and didn't show enough confidence," Hristov said. "This is the moment, if you want to be a champion, you have to prove it in the most difficult moments in the game."
Six minutes after the break, Atlanta made it 3-1, creating a scoring chance on a turnover near midfield. Pablo Cruz dribbled toward the Rowdies' goal and slipped a pass deep into the box, where Deon McCaulay was waiting to chip a shot over Pickens.
"We have to do a lot better job," Hill said. "If it means changing personnel … other people may have to have a chance, because we have to find a winning formula."