ST. PETERSBURG — With the NASL Soccer Bowl out of their grasp, the Rowdies focused on finishing second in the fall season standings with Minnesota United visiting Al Lang Stadium for the 2013 season finale.
A Rowdies defense that has struggled with consistency all season came unhinged, though, thwarting those plans.
Minnesota scored six times against Tampa Bay. The Rowdies had four goals of their own but couldn't overcome a porous back line in a 6-4 loss with 4,319 in attendance.
"Didn't want to end the season in that fashion," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "Our Achilles' heel keeps coming back to haunt us in terms of just looking defensively fragile."
Minnesota (6-6-2, 20 points) scored 10 minutes into the match when Omar Daley raced to intercept a ball before it went over the goal line and targeted Floyd Franks on the far post with a cross. Franks headed the ball back across the goal mouth and past Rowdies keeper Diego Restrepo for a 1-0 lead.
Minnesota went up 2-0 seven minutes later. From the right wing, Daley dribbled toward the goal, maneuvering through the Rowdies defense, and, at the edge of the 6-yard box, rifled a shot at the near post that snuck into goal.
The Rowdies' Etienne Barbara earned a penalty kick in the 52nd minute after he was knocked over in the box from behind by Minnesota's Kentaro Takada. Luke Mulholland converted the penalty to cut the lead to 2-1. For Mulholland, who finished the season second on the Rowdies with 11 goals, the score was his fourth in the past four matches.
Minnesota pushed the lead back to two on Daley's second. Pablo Campos had a one-on-one shot that was denied by Restrepo, but Daley cracked the rebound into the far upper corner.
The Rowdies (5-4-5, 20 points) closed to 3-2 when Mulholland crossed from the right side of the field into the box for Carl Cort. Minnesota's Aaron Pitchkolan tried to clear the ball near his own goal but ended up kicking it into the back of his own net.
With the Rowdies pushing hard for the equalizer, Minnesota scored on a quick counterattack to put it away, Campos running unimpeded to the goal and beating Restrepo in the 71st minute.
"Credit to Minnesota, they exploited our weaknesses," Hill said.
Daley earned a hat trick in the 83rd minute after chipping a shot over Restrepo, who had come well outside the box to challenge a long pass.
The Rowdies' Evans Frimpong scored in the 85th minute to make the score 5-3, but a minute later, Restrepo brought down Campos in the box, and Campos converted the penalty kick in the 90th minute against backup goalie Andrew Fontein — in for an injured Restrepo — for Minnesota's sixth goal. Frimpong scored his second of the game and sixth this season in the stoppage time.
"I'm saddened for our guys that … they'll have all winter to think about this game before we play another league game of purpose, and it's not great to finish on a losing note," Hill said.