St. PETERSBURG — Playoff seeding will go down to the wire as the Rowdies missed a chance to move up in the United Soccer League Championship Eastern Conference standings against Indy Eleven on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium. The teams settled for a 1-1 draw in front of 7,815 fans, the largest crowd of the season.
Tampa Bay entered the match in fifth place with 57 points, two spots and two points behind Indy. The Rowdies, who have clinched a playoff berth, close out the regular season next Saturday at Hartford.
A home game in the postseason is something coach Neill Collins said the players crave.
“We want to bring more people back and have the stands filled,” he said. “It was great to have that support.”
Sebastian Guenzatti, who scored the Rowdies’ lone goal to extend a modern-era team record to 18, said the players noted the size of the crowd, which surpassed the 7,304 who turned out for the season opener.
“Hopefully we’ll get a top spot to get back here,” he said, adding that a tie “is frustrating and disappointing for the fans. Fans are the main part of this. Without fans there would be no fun.”
Leading 1-0, Tampa Bay allowed the tying goal in the 72nd minute when Indy’s Dane Kelly finished off Tyler Pasher’s cross from the left by kicking the ball into a wide-open net from the right side for his team-leading eighth goal.
In the waning seconds of the first half and after a handful of close-range scoring bids that missed the net or were blocked, the Rowdies took a 1-0 lead on Guenzatti’s penalty kick. That gave the team captain goals in five of his past seven starts.
Guenzatti’s PK came after a hand ball in the penalty box was called on defender Paddy Barrett, who blocked Andrew Tinari’s low shot from the left side.
“The goalie was trying to hold the ball to waste time and make me nervous,” said Guenzatti, who kicked the ball into the bottom right corner when Indy goalkeeper Jordan Farr lunged to his right and left a wide-open net. “You’ve just got to stay calm in those moments.”
Before the PK, Tampa Bay’s best scoring chance early came with Leo Fernandes hitting the far goalpost from a tough angle on the left side. The midfielder stole the ball near the sideline and dribbled in deep before sending a high cross that bounced out.
Fernandes was injured on that play and did not return as he was replaced by Afrim Taku. Collins said Fernandes injured his right hamstring and his status for the regular-season finale will likely be determined later in the week.
Tampa Bay controlled the tempo from the outset, finishing with a 24-5 shot advantage. For his part, Collins could not fault his players for their collective effort, though he was not too pleased with the outcome.
“We’re coming to the last days of the season. It’s all about results,” he said. “We just fell short.