ST. PETERSBURG — It was a frantic — and for the Rowdies, flabbergasting — finish at Al Lang Stadium on Tuesday night as Hartford held on for a 1-0 victory.
The Rowdies had five sure-looking goals, at least. They recorded 14 shots in the second half, 10 of them coming after the 89th minute. In a dramatic eight-minute stoppage time, they had five shots blocked, one right on the goal line by a Hartford defender.
“There’s no getting away from it — a very, very frustrating night,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “We did everything, particularly towards the end of the game, to get the ball in the net and didn’t quite manage it. Hartford have to take some credit. They threw their bodies in front of everything, and their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves.”
In the final sequence, Hartford almost scored into its own goal. The Rowdies’ Connor Antley, part of the last set of substitutions by Collins, crossed a ball that went off a defender and ricocheted straight into the underside of the crossbar and out. Sebastian Guenzatti and Lewis Hilton collected rebound chances that were heading in but for a Hartford defender.
Before the final deluge, Zach Steinberger’s nifty 83rd-minute move into space led to a kick save by goaltender Jeff Caldwell.
It was a standings-shifting result in the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay (8-4-0, 24 points) still leads but now has plenty of company near the top with Pittsburgh at 21 points, and Miami and Hartford both with 20. The latter have handed Tampa Bay in its past two games its first two-game losing streak since October 2019.
Guenzatti best exemplified the night’s frustrations for the Rowdies. He had seven great chances that started with perhaps the most head-scratching: In the third minute, Dayonn Harris’ cross found Guenzatti 4 yards from goal, but he skied the ball over the bar. Fifteen minutes later, the Rowdies’ captain rung one squarely off the right post.
And late in the first half, Guenzatti was served two chances at headers right on the 6-yard box, but Caldwell tapped one over the bar and with quick reflexes snagged the other. This was after a perfect header from Derek Dodson resulted in a 1-0 Hartford lead in the 23rd minute.
“We had so many chances, even in the first half. They had one chance, they put it away,” said the Rowdies’ Leo Fernandes. “We thought, ‘We’ll keep going and definitely win the game,’ but it just didn’t come.”
Guenzatti actually solved Caldwell in the 92nd minute, only to have the ball catch just enough of defender Alex Lara, who dove directly across his goal line to make the play.
The second half also featured controversy. Both teams claimed penalty-kick opportunities that weren’t given.
Hartford (6-2-2, two games in hand on Tampa Bay) became the fourth team in four tries to top the Rowdies in a rematch, albeit just barely and getting outshot 20-10.
Now Tampa Bay gets its first chance to exact some revenge, as it goes back to Miami on Saturday.
“We just need to try and stay levelheaded and get on to Miami, quickly,” Collins said. “It’s a sore (loss) for the players. They’ve put in so much effort; they’ve given everything. And I think that’s one of the things that, aside from winning, that the fans have to look at. So it’ll come back around for us, I’m sure.”