TAMPA — Call it the home stretch, and the Rowdies are stretching their luck.
Opening a stretch of six home games in their final eight regular-season contests, the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies know they need to pile up wins at Steinbrenner Field to clinch a playoff berth.
Entering Thursday's home match against NASL Conference leader Vancouver, Tampa Bay sat in the eighth and final playoff spot. The Rowdies have been living on the edge of the postseason bubble for more than a month now, and their points pace is dangerously close to not being enough.
The Rowdies earned a third straight draw, 1-1 on Thursday in front of an announced crowd of 2,562. Albeit against one of the tops sides in U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2, the Rowdies left the field knowing they left two points there.
"We should have won this game," said midfielder Ricardo Sanchez, who came to the Rowdies in a trade with Vancouver last month. "But we have everything in our hands right now. We can't depend on anybody."
The Rowdies (6-8-9, 27 points) outshot the Whitecaps 17-6 and challenged goalkeeper Jay Nolly. Tampa Bay hit the goal frame four times, including a would-be winner on a shot by Sanchez in the 82nd minute.
"We battered them," Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish said. "We dominated them from start to finish. We hit the post I don't know how many times.
"You've got to take the positives from it, that we're creating so many chances," Dalglish added. "I tell you what, anyone who's watching us play, won't fancy playing us in the playoffs. Everyone will be fearing us. We don't need to finish first. We don't need to finish second. We only need to finish eighth."
The bad news: The Rowdies could fall out of that final spot by weekend's end if Montreal (6-10-7, 25 points) beats Baltimore on Saturday.
Sanchez and midfielder Jonny Steele, acquired from Vancouver on July 20, continued to make an impact for the Rowdies. Steele fed Aaron King on Tampa Bay's tying score in the 25th minute. Steele lofted the ball toward the goal and King put it in after it deflected off two Whitecaps players.
"A forward's gift," King said. "Jonny's always telling me, 'Just make your run and I'll put it there.' "
For King, it was his third goal in two games. With a team-high nine, King is tied for second in the league in goals. But he left the game with a hamstring injury.
Vancouver (9-3-12, 39 points) struck first in the seventh minute, when Tampa native and former Wharton High player Blake Wagner rocketed a shot from 25 yards out just past diving goalkeeper Josh Lambo. Lambo played well in place of starter Daryl Sattler, who was out with a groin injury.
"They scored a wonder goal," Dalglish said. "It's seems like a familiar story this season. … It's really frustrating we weren't able to turn this into a victory."