TAMPA — A mix-match Rowdies lineup produced one of the team's finest results of the season against Portland on Saturday night in front of 4,417 at Steinbrenner Field.
A Timbers goal in the 81st minute, however, kept Tampa Bay from collecting the full three points the players probably believed they deserved in a game that ended 2-2.
Three Rowdies regulars — Kwame Adjeman-Pamboe, Pascal Millien and Takuya Yamada — were not in the starting lineup. Little-used Drew Yates got a start, as did midfielder Ricardo Sanchez, who made his first appearance since being acquired July 20 in a trade with Vancouver.
The different look paid dividends. The Rowdies (6-7-6) attacked Portland with purpose for much of the match. Tampa Bay sent more shots on goal (8-6) than the Timbers (7-6-6), who were fourth in the United States Soccer Federation Division 2 going in.
The Rowdies took a 2-1 lead in the 57th minute on Sanchez's free kick from distance and continued putting heat on goalkeeper Steven Cronin.
But a fortuitous goal as time dwindled from Portland substitute Takayuki Suzuki prevented the Rowdies from collecting a win much-needed for playoff purposes. Rowdies goalkeeper Daryl Sattler dove off his line, trying to pick off a cross in front of the goal. The loose ball bounced to the left post, where Suzuki corralled it, took his time dribbling around two defenders and blasted a shot into the open net from in close.
"I thought we had plenty of time to get rid of it," Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish said. "When you don't clear it, you get punished at this level. Any sloppiness, you get punished, especially in your own box."
The Rowdies' inability to clear also resulted in an early 1-0 deficit. In the 16th minute, Portland's corner kick to the back post was knocked around in front of the goal until the Timbers' Bright Dike pounced.
Aaron King tied it for the Rowdies in the 27th minute when he looped a high-arcing shot from the right corner of the 18-yard box over an out-of-position Cronin. King's perfectly-placed strike slid just inside the far post.
"Mozzi (Gyorio) played a good ball in the corner. … It bounced up pretty nice for me," King said. "Took a quick look up, and I saw (Cronin) off his line. You've got to try things as a forward. I just tried to go back post, and it worked out for me."
In the 57th minute, Sanchez showed why he's one of the best free-kick takers in the league when he beat Cronin clean from 25 yards out to the right post.
"I think my best strength in soccer is my free kicks," Sanchez said. "I have to take advantage of every free kick."
The Rowdies nearly made it 3-1 two minutes later, but Cronin made a diving save to his right.
"End of the day, it's good to get that point for sure," King said. "It's better than a loss. … We've got to get those wins. End of the day, we've got to figure out a way not to give up any points."