ST. PETERSBURG — With the North American Soccer League spring season championship slipping out of reach, the Rowdies desperately needed a victory Saturday night.
San Antonio, having lost 2-0 to Tampa Bay on April 13 and tied for last in the NASL, seemed to be the perfect opponent.
The Scorpions, however, had other ideas.
Hans Denissen, a second-half substitute, ran free down the right wing on a two-on-one in the 88th minute and shot past Diego Restrepo for the winning goal in the Scorpions' 2-1 victory in front of a season-high 4,595 at Al Lang Stadium.
"Little did I know that our defenders would transpire to go daydreaming and go off on holidays," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said about the winning goal. "I don't know what they were thinking, but they've cost the team the game."
With two games remaining in the spring season, Tampa Bay has little chance of winning the title and qualifying for the league title game. At 3-4-3, they have 12 points, five behind first-place Atlanta and three behind second-place Carolina. A win by Carolina over Edmonton today eliminates Tampa Bay.
The Rowdies went down a goal in the 37th minute after a rarely seen penalty. With the Rowdies under heavy pressure, defender Jay Needham tried to kick the ball away from the goal line. But the ball went backward with spin toward Restrepo, who was forced to make a save. The referee ruled it a pass (keepers can't play a pass with their hands) and awarded San Antonio an indirect kick from 6 yards.
The Rowdies lined their entire team on the goal line from post to post. But Kevin Harmse passed to Blake Wagner a couple of steps to his right, and Wagner blasted a low shot through the wall and into the right corner of the goal.
"There was no way possible that Jay had tried to ease the ball back to Diego in a passing motion," Hill said. "It was obvious that Jay had swiped at the ball with his left foot and it spun off the outside of his left boot toward the goal. He sliced it and miskicked it, which happens in games."
English-born Carl Cort entered having seen limited action this year because of injuries. But when the 6-foot-4 forward is playing, the Rowdies' attack has an aerial threat not otherwise present.
In the 80th minute, Cort, a second-half substitute, proved his value. He rose above the fray and headed Devin Del Do's pass down. The ball bounced past San Antonio goalie Jeremy Vuolo for the tying goal.
"It was a good 30 minutes for me to get out there and get my fitness back up," Cort said. "Obviously, it's an extra bonus and a confidence boost for me to get on the score sheet. Unfortunately, the result got away."
Eight minutes later, San Antonio (3-4-2, 11 points) took the victory and three points on Denissen's goal.
In its previous game, June 8 at Carolina, Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the 87th minute but allowed two goals for a 2-1 loss.
"The worst thing that happened to us, as in last week's game at Carolina, was we scored," Hill said. "For whatever reason, subconsciously when we score … we stop doing what we were doing before, stop being organized at the back."