TAMPA — On a soggy Wednesday night at Steinbrenner Field, the playoffs slipped further out of the Rowdies' grasp with a 2-1 loss to Carolina.
Playing its worst defensive half, according to coach Paul Dalglish, Tampa Bay fell behind 2-0 by halftime, cut the deficit to one in the closing minutes but failed to produce an equalizer in an uninspiring performance.
"There was defending in the first half that if you get paid to be a professional soccer player, it should never happen," Dalglish said. "It is one of the worst defensive performances that I've seen in the professional game. They looked like they'd never … played together, and that back four's played together for the last however many games."
The top eight teams in the United States Soccer Federation Division 2 make the playoffs. With six games left, the Rowdies (6-9-9) sit ninth with 27 points. That's one behind Montreal and Minnesota, which have six and five games left, respectively.
In the first half, Carolina routinely found open attackers behind Tampa Bay's back line. It sent penetrating through balls past the defense. It looped long balls over the top, creating several scoring opportunities that, at times, had the Rowdies looking like a sandlot team.
"The mentality of our defensive performance in the first half was miles away from the standard required to wear a Rowdies jersey and play for this club with great tradition," Dalglish said. "It's definitely hurting me."
In the 23rd minute, Matt Bobo, loosely marked, outjumped the defense to head a corner kick from Daniel Paladini into the left corner of the goal.
Carolina made it 2-0 in the 40th minute when Matt Watson threaded a through ball to Etienne Barbara running free behind the defense. Barbara chipped the ball over goalkeeper Daryl Sattler, who came well off of his line, latched onto the end of his own pass and easily put the ball in the back of the net.
"We kept our line way too high, and they were clever just putting the balls right over the back," Sattler said. "I mean, seven, eight breakaways, two vs. one facing me. That's never a good thing for me or any team or any goalkeeper. Our back four and me, maybe our back five and the whole team, just weren't on the same page."
The halftime score, in fact, could have been much worse had Sattler not made several diving stops.
Ricardo Sanchez gave the Rowdies life in the 88th minute by curling a 28-yard free kick into the left corner of the goal.
The Rowdies were close to equalizing it during stoppage time — Maykel Galindo sent a shot toward an open goal that was cleared off the line by a defender, and Sanchez sent a free kick only a couple of feet over the crossbar — but couldn't salvage a point in front of a season-low announced attendance of 1,825.
"You can try and take positives out," Dalglish said. "But the way we defended in the first half, we don't deserve anything out of the soccer game."