ST. PETERSBURG — Leg-weary Charleston hung around and, after seeing several chances barely miss, converted a late goal off a free kick to tie the Rowdies 1-1 before an announced 5,082 Saturday at Al Lang Stadium.
It qualifies as a dazzling result for the visitors, who were thoroughly out-possessed while falling behind 1-0 in the first half.
“We got what we deserved ultimately,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “We were poor in the second half, probably the poorest we’ve been.”
Having played a road game just two nights earlier, and the Rowdies on a full week’s rest, Charleston still had the best early chances. However, Tampa Bay’s Sebastian Guenzatti broke through late in the first half for the lone conversion, his team-high seventh goal.
The draw ensured that the Rowdies (8-1-6, 30 points) leave the weekend atop the USL’s Eastern Conference, but certainly they were planning on a bigger cushion over second-place New York (26 points), which plays on Sunday.
Having played, and lost 3-1 in extra time at MLS Atlanta on Thursday in the U.S. Open Cup, Charleston (5-3-6, 21 points) went with a lineup that included five players who had started seven or less games.
“I think they would have looked more tired if we’d have killed their spirit. I think if we’d have scored the second (goal), it would have been a long night for them,” Collins said.
Charleston gave 18-year-old forward Nicque Daley his first start, and he almost scored with barely a minute gone. But Daley, who broke in past a napping Rowdies defense, sent a shot wide that would have made it 1-0.
His replacement got the equalizer. Ian Svantesson, who entered for Daley in the 83rd minute, pounced on a well-designed set piece for his fourth goal, coming in the 87th minute. A foul was called on Dom Oduro 45 yards from goal, resulting in a yellow card, and a long Charleston pass was headed down perfectly to Svantesson.
“I said it to my staff, I would not be surprised if they scored here. Disappointing night. We’ve got a lot to learn from it,” said Collins.
In the final seconds Guenzatti almost won it, but he barely missed getting his head on the end of a cross by Malik Johnson.
Rowdies goalkeeper John McCarthy was tested infrequently but had to make difficult stops, particularly on a 16th-minute rebound blast from Vincenzo Cardela.