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Rowdies falter in Connecticut, now face road playoff

Tampa Bay’s loss means it will start the postseason with a tall order
Juan Tejada (right) and the Rowdies could not contain the Hartford Athletic in a 2-1 loss Saturday night. [Hartford Athletic]
Juan Tejada (right) and the Rowdies could not contain the Hartford Athletic in a 2-1 loss Saturday night. [Hartford Athletic]

The Rowdies will open its USL Championship Playoffs in Louisville after losing their regular season finale against Hartford Athletic Saturday.

The Athletic downed the Rowdies 2-1 in Hartford, relegating Tampa Bay to a road match against two-time defending champion Louisville City on Oct. 26. That match is slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Slugger Field.

The Rowdies (16-8-10, 58 points) opened the night in fourth place and in line to host its quarterfinal match with a victory, but Tampa Bay’s loss, paired with Louisville City FC’s 2-1 win over Memphis 901 FC, saw the Rowdies slip to fifth place.

Tampa Bay started its match against Hartford (8-21-5, 29 points) well, but neither side was able to break through in the opening 45 minutes.

Hartford broke the deadlock just two minutes in the second half when Ryan Williams received a cross and fired a shot from the corner of the box that hit the far post and caromed into Tampa Bay's net to put the hosts up 1-0 in the 47th minute.

The match took a turn in the 68th minute when Rowdies midfielder Malik Johnson was shown his second yellow card in six minutes and dismissed from the match, leaving Tampa Bay shorthanded for the remainder of the night.

With a lot on the line, the Rowdies continued to fight through the adversity.

Second-half substitute Lucky Mkosana gave the Rowdies a lifeline in the 73rd minute, receiving a pass from Sebastian Guenzatti and firing it past Hartford goalkeeper Cody Cropper to tie the match at 1-1.

From there, the Rowdies controlled much of the match despite their man disadvantage. Tampa Bay controlled the possession in the final 15 minutes and had a couple of scoring chances come up short.

With the Rowdies pressing hard for a second goal and a home game next weekend, Hartford delivered the fatal blow in the third minute of added time as Wojciech Wojcik headed in a Raymond Lee cross to doom the Rowdies to the defeat.