TAMPA — Through the raindrops, the early outlook was bleak for the Rowdies against St. Louis on Sunday evening.
With six regular-season games remaining — and beginning the day outside the playoffs — Tampa Bay fell behind by two goals in the first 20 minutes.
And it took a tying goal by Yendry Diaz in second-half stoppage time for the Rowdies to earn a 2-2 draw and hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 standings.
Still, the inability of the Rowdies (6-9-10, 28 points) to earn three points against the team with the second-worst record (5-11-8) extended their winless streak to seven games (0-2-5).
"Yeah, we're not happy about the way we're playing, but it's not doom and gloom," Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish said. "We're still in it. We still have five games left. If we start feeling sorry for ourselves, we have no chance of getting into the playoffs."
But Tampa Bay hasn't had a lead in the past three games, and playing catch-up has become the norm.
"It's starting to feel like a broken record sometimes," Rowdies goalkeeper Daryl Sattler said. "I'm just a little surprised about the way the last two months have been, but you can't be outworked. If you outwork somebody, you're going to win."
The Rowdies fell behind on an own goal in the fifth minute. A ball kicked in front of the net by St. Louis forward Luke Kreamalmeyer went in off the leg of defender Rob Valentino. The Rowdies said that Kreamalmeyer's ball was past the end line when he kicked it, but the goal stood.
Mike Ambersley then rocketed a kick from 25 yards out past a diving Sattler in the 19th minute to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead. The Rowdies trailed Carolina 2-0 early in a 2-1 loss Wednesday.
Rowdies midfielder Jonny Steele put Tampa Bay within one just before the half, booting a right-footed shot from outside the goal box in the 43rd minute.
Diaz, a second-half substitute, took Steele's free kick and scored the tying goal during the three minutes of stoppage time.
"At the end of the day, we have to win games to get to the playoffs," Steele said. "You can't give two goals early in the game."
Goal differential is the difference between the Rowdies — who share the eighth spot with Minnesota — making the playoffs and not. But Tampa Bay faces Minnesota in its final five games, as well as three teams above them in the standings.
"Now it's a do-or-die feel," Sattler said. "It's like we have our backs against the wall, and we do, but that's pressure, and that's part of the game. If you can't handle it, you shouldn't be a pro."