ST. PETERSBURG — Despite a late surge against Atlanta United 2, a team the Rowdies had never met, Tampa Bay settled for a scoreless tie Saturday night in front of 5,953 at Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay (5-5-2, 17 points) extended its home unbeaten streak to 18 games, including five this season (3-0-2). The Rowdies, who have not lost at home since April 22, 2017, are 1-0-2 since ending their three-game losing skid. But their run of 30 consecutive games scoring at home, dating back to Aug. 20, 2016, was halted.
While the Rowdies remain in the hunt for one of the eight playoff spots in the United Soccer League's Eastern Conference, Atlanta drops to 2-6-4.
"We could've easily won it in the end," said former Rowdies player now coach Neill Collins, who is 1-0-2 since replacing Stuart Campbell. "If we won it, I would've been pleased. I would've been dancing on the rooftop."
Collins might have done just that had two late substitutions — midfielders Leo Fernandes and Alex Morrell — converted on some solid scoring chances. Both entered the game with less than 20 minutes to play, but came up short.
Fernandes had two scoring chances in the waning minutes, his second being the most dramatic. He emerged from a pack at the top of the penalty box, cut to his left and blasted a low shot that Atlanta goalkeeper Paul Christensen came out of his net to smother at the near post.
A few minutes earlier, Fernandes was thwarted by Christensen from the left side. Moments after that Morrell blasted a shot from 25 yards that sailed over the crossbar.
"That helped change the game. That's what substitutes are for," Collins said of the late lineup changes.
As for the Tampa Bay defense, Atlanta had very few opportunities except for a few chances from Devon Sandoval and Laurent Kiessiedou.
"I thought defensively we did a good job," Rowdies defender Hunter Gorskie said. "We got the zero, we just needed to score."
Each team lost a player late in the first half. Atlanta defender Will Crain was issued a second yellow card in the 39th minute, which led to a red card and an automatic ejection.
Four minutes later, Tampa Bay midfielder Marcel Schafer was red-carded, meaning both teams played a man down the rest of the way.
Atlanta had a crack at the first goal midway through the first half, but an apparent tip-in goal by Kiessiedou was nullified by an offside call.