ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies lost their third match of the season Saturday night, all coming against Charleston, which got a goal from Stavros Zarokostas in the 84th minute for a 2-1 win in the regular-season finale at rainy, windy Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay took solace in knowing that it will be home when the USL Championship playoffs start next weekend. The Rowdies host Group G runnerup Birmingham at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“To be honest, I thought It was a really poor game,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “Second half I felt as though the ball was never in play. The referee had lots to do. And the (weather) conditions were perhaps part of that.”
Nine yellow cards were issued in the match. The teams combined for 34 fouls, which played a factor in the Rowdies' performance — “We couldn’t build up any momentum,” Collins said — even after Forrest Lasso’s tying goal in the 62nd minute.
Tampa Bay (10-3-3) had to beat Charleston to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which would have guaranteed homefield throughout the conference playoffs. The Rowdies held the top spot going into the game, but Pittsburgh and Louisville won Saturday to leapfrog them.
The Rowdies won Group H when Charleston (9-3-3) lost Wednesday at Miami. That means homefield for, potentially, at least two rounds of the playoffs and possibly a fourth crack at Charleston, which plays at Group G winner Charlotte for its opener.
The Rowdies managed to halt their scoring drought against the Battery, who had beaten them 1-0 in each of the previous two matches. After Zarokostas' 57th-minute breakaway goal, the Rowdies tied it on Leo Fernandes' corner kick. Sebastian Guenzatti raced in for an initial header across the goalmouth to Lasso, who headed the ball into the back of the net.
Charleston scored the winner when Temiloluwa Adesodun squared a pass to Zarokostas, who sliced it with the outside of his right foot, beating diving goalkeeper Evan Louro inside the right post.
The Rowdies thought they had tied it in stoppage time on Max Lachowecki’s goal, but he was called for offside. The Battery had a 7-5 shot advantage over the Rowdies, who only had two in the second half.
After the game, Collins was ready to move on, noting the disappointment but adding, “we’ll just end it there.”
Rowdies president Lee Cohen announced that stadium capacity will be increased to 1,200-1,500 fans for the playoff opener. Matches were limited to 150 when play resumed after the season’s shutdown, though 600 tickets were sold for Saturday’s match. Attendance was reported at 403, likely down due to the weather.
Should both Tampa Bay and Charleston advance next weekend, they will meet for a fourth time, this time in the second round of the playoffs.
“Whoever we see between now and the final, we’ll be ready for it,” Collins said. “We’ll be focused on next week, and we’ll take it from there. A lot has happened between us and Charleston, but that will be quickly forgotten since it’s about a one-and-done game.”