BLAINE, Minn. — The Rowdies dropped Game 1 of the NASL final 2-0 to defending champion Minnesota on Saturday night.
The Stars scored twice in the second half, including near the end of three minutes of stoppage time, elating the announced crowd of 4,642 at the National Sports Center.
The final series is a two-game, total-goals format, meaning the Rowdies need to win Game 2 to win the championship. The second game is Saturday at Al Lang Field.
Trailing 1-0 after Minnesota's Amani Walker scored in the 67th minute, the Rowdies seemed headed home with minimal damage. But a late Stars corner kick resulted in a scrum and a Martin Nunez goal.
"We just got sloppy," Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said. "A bad giveaway leads to a corner, and now we've dug ourselves a big hole. It would have been a lot better if that last goal didn't go in, but we're going home, and we're a team that will fight to the end."
Tampa Bay lost only once at home in league play (7-1-7) this season. They started Saturday's game on the road with urgency, peppering Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel with strong shots.
Mike Ambersley blasted a near-post shot. Keith Savage got most of a ball to VanOekel's left and followed up with a heavier shot a few minutes later.
Fighting back against a depleted Rowdies defense, Minnesota buried its second-half chances.
Rowdies defender Takuya Yamada, the only player in the league apart from goalies to play every minute in the regular season, didn't play because of a strained knee ligament sustained in Game 2 of the semifinal against Carolina on Oct. 13. His status is day to day, the team said.
Fellow defender Draymond Washington will miss the final with a torn meniscus.
Tampa Bay returns home in search of its second NASL title. The original Rowdies won the 1975 NASL Soccer Bowl championship in its inaugural season.
Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said coming back to win the title starts with reminding his stunned players that the first game, however frustrating, is only halftime.
"It's tough to take," Hill said. "I don't think we deserved to be 2-nil down, but it is what it is, and we've got 90 minutes to try and rectify it next week. We're down, but we're not out, and we'll come back fighting."
The Rowdies can win the title in one of two ways in Game 2: winning by at least three goals in regulation or winning by two goals in regulation and then prevailing in extra time or penalty kicks to break the total-goals tie.
The Rowdies had fan support at the game.
Greg Legas grew up in Bloomington, Minn., and moved to Florida 16 years ago. The St. Pete Beach area resident returned north for the game, donning a Rowdies sweatshirt and scarf, and flying a Rowdies flag from his rental car.