ST. PETERSBURG — During the offseason, the Rowdies re-signed reigning NASL Golden Ball winner Georgi Hristov and added 2013 league goal-scoring champion Brian Shriver to add potency to an already prolific attack.
Instead, Edmonton's signing of Kareem Moses turned out to be the most impactful roster move for the Rowdies offense in Saturday's 2014 season opener.
Moses inadvertently knocked the ball over Edmonton goalkeeper John Smits off a cross from Tampa Bay's Darel Russell for an own goal. The Rowdies were denied victory when Edmonton's Tomi Ameobi headed a shot past Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 88th minute for a 1-1 draw in front of 7,003 at Al Lang Stadium.
"In any league, these are all dog fights. They're not going to be pretty," Pickens said. "The first month of the season is always like this. Super disappointed not to get three points, giving away a pretty cheap goal late in the game. Not an easy pill to swallow."
Moses' own goal came immediately after the Rowdies' best chance to score themselves. On a 25-yard free kick from the left side, Anthony Wallace curled a pass into the middle of the box, missing the outstretched foot of Shriver by inches.
Edmonton tried to clear, but the Rowdies kept the ball in the offensive zone and eventually the ball found the feet of Russell near the goal line. Russell ripped a pass across the face of the goal, which struck Moses and ricocheted over Smits from 8 yards away.
Ameobi's tying goal came on a counterattack. Edmonton's Ritchie Jones collected the ball on the right wing and crossed toward the back post, where Ameobi was waiting unmarked.
"We have to transition a lot better, particularly at that stage of the game whereby it's critical," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "We're five minutes away from a clean sheet, and we have to show a better level of concentration in those moments."
Pickens, signed 17 days before the start of the season from Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids to help offset the loss of regular starter Diego Restrepo (torn Achilles tendon), proved his value throughout the night. He made a penalty kick save against Edmonton's Neil Hlavaty in the 54th minute.
The spot kick was awarded when Frank Jonke was brought down inside the box by Pickens when they collided chasing a pass from beyond midfield. Hlavaty shot the penalty to Pickens' right, and the 32-year-old keeper stretched to make a diving stop.
"I don't know (Hlavaty). He doesn't know me," Pickens said. "That's sometimes good. I just got a good jump on it and put it out."
For large portions of the match, Tampa Bay's offense was nearly nonexistent. The Rowdies had seven shots on target but only a couple that threatened Smits.
"We need to be a little braver collectively in terms of taking responsibility to maintain possession of the ball," Hill said.