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Rowdies tie Carolina in NASL opener

Rowdies defender Jay Needham protests after an offside call nullifies his would-be score in the first half. Tampa Bay outshoots Carolina 17-6 but settles for a scoreless tie.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Rowdies defender Jay Needham protests after an offside call nullifies his would-be score in the first half. Tampa Bay outshoots Carolina 17-6 but settles for a scoreless tie.

ST. PETERSBURG — For five months, Al Lang Stadium sat dormant in the afterglow of the Tampa Bay Rowdies' 2012 championship run.

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But for the 4,232 attending the 2013 season opener, the celebration, it seemed, never stopped.

Before Saturday's match against Carolina, the Rowdies unveiled their new championship banner. The NASL Soccer Bowl trophy rested on a table next to the field as highlights from the title run played on a video screen.

Even former goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made a surprise appearance, stepping away from his duties with new club Real Salt Lake of MLS to see his former teammates and address the crowd.

The only thing missing from the party? A Rowdies victory.

The Rowdies remained unbeaten in home openers since their reemergence four seasons ago but felt unfortunate to come away with only one point against Carolina after a 0-0 draw.

"Disappointed that we didn't manage to take one of those opportunities that we created but delighted with the overall effort and application of the team," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said.

Much of the Rowdies' firepower watched from the air-conditioned press box as starting forwards Mike Ambersley and Carl Cort were out injured. Their absence was noticeable, especially in the final third, where the Rowdies could not capitalize on a sizable edge in time of possession.

"It's encouraging that we're creating this many opportunities early on," substitute Devin Del Do said. "I think it is a bit disappointing that we couldn't have done better with our few chances."

The forward nearly broke the deadlock in the 87th minute when, while seated on the grass after having been knocked over, he headed a ball toward the open goal that was cleared away by a defender at the last moment.

Earlier, the Rowdies had a goal from Jay Needham in the 16th minute disallowed after the defender was whistled for offside.

In the 30th minute, Luke Mulholland curled a 25-yard free kick toward the top corner of the goal but was denied when RailHawks goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald (seven saves) punched the ball away with a diving stop.

"Frustrated we didn't get the three points, but at the same time if we don't win, we don't lose," Mulholland said.

Rowdies keeper Andrew Fontein was rarely tested in his first professional start, making two saves for the shutout. Tampa Bay's defense kept Carolina from mounting any sustained threat.

"The most pleasing part of tonight has been the fact that Andrew managed to have a shutout," Hill said. "The defenders, all of them in front of him, played excellently and managed to engage and nullify Carolina's attacks before they actually got in our box."

The Rowdies play Saturday at San Antonio, the first NASL match at the Scorpions' new, 8,500-seat soccer-specific stadium.

Rowdies tie Carolina in NASL opener 04/06/13 [Last modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 12:25am]

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