ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies were only too glad to extend Minnesota's late-game misery Wednesday, pulling off a crucial 2-2 draw when Keith Savage scored in the 92nd minute. The teams stayed tied for fourth place and the final playoff spot in the NASL, but the Rowdies have a game in hand.
"It means we're still in it. Every point counts," Savage said.
Minnesota went in on a four-game losing streak, having given up a goal in the final 10 minutes in each of the previous three games. It looked like that wouldn't happen Wednesday despite the Rowdies (9-8-10) playing the last half-hour almost entirely in Minnesota's end and making a pair of offensive-minded substitutions — Carlos Preciado and Kalif Alhassan — and pushing defender Neill Collins up front in the final 20.
In the 86th minute, Tommy Heinemann was clearly pulled down while wrestling for possession in the Minnesota penalty box, but no foul was called. But with five minutes of stoppage time, the Rowdies came through when Savage pounced upon a loose ball served in by Georgi Hristov.
Savage "absolutely" was exhausted, starting for the first time in eight games.
"I was going to go forward there no matter what. I'm just glad (the ball) fell to my feet," he said.
Both Minnesota goals came off rebounds. J.C. Banks' second goal of the year put Minnesota up 2-1 in the 52nd minute after Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens punched away a floating cross. From that innocuous setup, Banks was able to corral the bouncing ball, shield three Tampa Bay defenders and in tight quarters turn for a low right-foot shot.
League-leading scorer Christian Ramirez got his 16th goal for a 1-0 first-half lead after Jeb Brovsky ripped a shot from 30 yards that Pickens could only punch onto the crossbar.
The Rowdies answered just past the half-hour mark when Eric Avila sent in a crisp 20-yard pass from the right side, Heinemann came up with a nifty flick that sent the ball over Minnesota's defense and Hristov caught it on the bounce with his left foot. Hristov leads Tampa Bay with nine goals.
"Fortunately we were able to get away with a point," Rowdies coach Stu Campbell. "We just couldn't get in our rhythm, for whatever reason. Minnesota made it very difficult for us. The big thing for us is the players kept going. The fans deserve a lot of credit. They dragged us over the finish line."
Attendance was announce at 4,804.
With five games remaining, the Rowdies take a Sunday trip to Edmonton, which is second overall.