ST. PETERSBURG — A makeshift defense presented a dicey proposition Saturday for the Rowdies against Atlanta, the NASL's last-place team.
The Rowdies showed they were susceptible to a quick-hitting team fighting to remain in the playoff hunt with the postseason beginning in less than a month.
A critical defensive lapse spotted Atlanta an early lead, but the Rowdies rebounded with a goal to earn a 1-1 draw in front of an announced crowd of 3,754 at Al Lang Field.
Tampa Bay remains three points ahead of Puerto Rico for second place in the standings.
The Rowdies (11-7-7 40 points) played without two full-time starters on the back line. Frankie Sanfilippo was suspended for the match after accumulating five yellow cards, and J.P. Rodrigues was away with the Guyana national team.
The defense's depletion showed at times.
Atlanta's goal resulted from an ill-timed back pass from Eddie Ababio, who started in place of Sanfilippo. Ababio tried to relieve pressure by passing to goalkeeper Jeff Attinella from near midfield, but the ball was intercepted by Atlanta's Matt Horth well before Attinella could reach it.
Horth calmly settled the ball and blistered a shot toward the far post that Attinella was able to slow but couldn't save
"It's crucial that (the defense) try to be error-free in terms of critical errors," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "We've managed to do that quite well throughout the whole season, but on this particular day, unfortunately Eddie decided to play it back when perhaps he should have played it forward."
The Rowdies responded 12 minutes later off a set piece deep in the Silverbacks' half of the field.
Luke Mulholland's free-kick cross into the middle of the box was headed toward the goal by Daniel Scott, but Scott's shot smacked off the crossbar. Daniel Antoniuk trapped the rebound and slipped a pass to Takuya Yamada, who was able to shoot through traffic and into the back of the net.
The goal was Yamada's third of the season.
"I was pleased with the players' reaction to (Atlanta's) goal," Hill said. "They didn't drop their heads. They kept pushing on."
Ababio earned two yellow cards in 14 minutes after halftime and was sent off in the 67th minute, forcing the Rowdies to play a man down for the remainder of the match.