ST. PETERSBURG — The largest crowd ever for a Rowdies game at Al Lang Stadium saw plenty of action Saturday but, frustratingly for the home fans, not a Tampa Bay victory. The Rowdies tied 1-1 with Jacksonville before a crowd of 7,690.
Tampa Bay controlled play after the Armada took a 12th-minute lead, tying 75 seconds after Jacksonville's goal on a Georgi Hristov goal and dominating the rest of the way.
The Rowdies drew for the fifth time in 11 games despite outshooting Jacksonville 17-7, including 11-2 in shots on target on Armada goalkeeper Sean Lewis.
"Outstanding effort. I thought it was our best all season," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "We could have had four, five goals tonight."
Jacksonville, which scored only five goals in 10 spring-season games, gave a stellar effort in the first 12 minutes of the fall season opener, and it paid off when defender Mechack Jerome whipped in a cross to Zach Steinberger, who scored for a 1-0 lead.
Tampa Bay reacted quickly. Darnell King's cross from the right curled into the path of Hristov, who scored into an open net 75 seconds after Jacksonville's goal.
Hristov leads the Rowdies with four goals.
The Rowdies (4-2-5 overall) held a 9-2 shot advantage at halftime. Free-kick efforts by Kalif Alhassan and Michael Nanchoff narrowly missed giving them a 2-1 advantage.
They kept up the pressure and appeared to take the lead 10 minutes into the second half, but Eric Avila was a few feet offside on a tremendous setup by Hristov, coming from a Nanchoff shot.
"Our problem is finishing right now," Avila said. "When you don't put away chances, (this is) what happens."
Lewis went high to his left to parry away Alhassan's excellent long-range effort just after the hour mark. Tampa Bay relentlessly pushed forward, with Hristov in 5 yards behind the defense in the 68th minute, but a poor touch cost him possession.
Alhassan shot from 25 yards after sub Tommy Heinemann drew a foul 25 yards out in the 75th minute, but the ball went right to Lewis, who made an Armada-record 11 saves.
For the first time since October 2014, Rowdies defender Tam Mkandawire missed time in an NASL contest. He was replaced at halftime by Stefan Antonijevic, who made a sliding clearance on one of Jacksonville's rare second-half forays. But he got banged up in the 77th minute.
Campbell was disconsolate about Mkandawire, saying a serious injury must have forced him out. But he was big on Saturday's turnout. "Fantastic atmosphere. Best I can remember since I've been here," he said.
The Rowdies were without midfielder Joe Cole, who was back in his native England for a family situation, the team said. Cole had started every game since joining the Rowdies halfway through the 10-game spring season.