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Rowdies tie Atlanta United 2 at Al Lang

Tampa Bay moves closer to a playoff berth in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference.

St. PETERSBURG — On the verge of clinching a playoff spot, the Rowdies inched a bit closer Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium by picking up a point in a 1-1 tie with Atlanta United 2. Tampa Bay won the season series 1-0-1.

Tampa Bay, which entered the match in third place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference, is 15-5-8 overall and 2-0-3 all time against Atlanta. The Rowdies, who last weekend set the franchise’s modern era record for victories, which had been 14 in 2017, now have 53 points, tied for their previous-best, also set in 2017.

“When you’re home, you want to win,” Tampa Bay coach Neill Collins said. “From the fans’ point of view, it’s disappointing for them. The mind-set of the players has been excellent and, on that basis, tonight I thought we’d come out and our performance would be a lot better.”

Added Sebastian Guenzatti, who scored the Rowdies’ lone goal, “(Atlanta) did a good job possessing and killed a lot of time. I’m disappointed with the score. I think we deserved a little more. We were looking for a win. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”

Looking to snap a tie in the 71st minute, the Rowdies’ Malik Johnson took a feed from Caleb Richards and right-footed a shot from the left side that hooked toward the far corner. Atlanta goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira just got a piece of the ball with his left hand to deflect it past the far post.

Atlanta struck first, just moments after Rowdies goalkeeper John McCarthy lunged to his right to swat away Jackson Conway’s point-blank redirection off a cross from Jack Metcalf. On the ensuing corner kick, Laurence Wyke headed one in from the right side of the 6-yard box for a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.

The Rowdies got that one back in the 30th minute thanks to the work of their top scoring duo. Leo Fernandes dribbled through the middle and dished the ball off to his right, where Guenzatti beat sliding keeper Castanheira with a shot into the lower far corner.

For Guenzatti, the franchise’s single-season goal-scoring leader, it was his 15th of the season. Fernandes notched his team-high eighth assist.

“John made a good save prior to (Guenzatti’s goal),” Collins said. “Credit the boys for getting that goal back. This is one of the positives to take.”

For his part, Guenzatti expressed his appreciation for the way he and Fernandes have worked together on various teams over the past 15 years. “It’s easy when you play with somebody that long,” he said. “The balls he puts in the box are amazing. He gave me a great pass.”