CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A pair of second-half defensive lapses cost the Rowdies in 2-0 loss to Charlotte on Saturday and ended their seasonlong grip atop the Atlantic Division.
Tampa Bay has dropped six of its past 10 matches, including two shutouts on the road to Charlotte.
After an evenly-played first half Charlotte (6-7-1, 19 points) quickly seized control, capitalizing on some shaky midfield play, with Dane Kelly breaking in for his team-leading seventh goal in the 47th minute. Then 15 minutes later, Charlotte cashed in on a goalmouth scramble as Irvin Parra converted.
“There’s nothing wrong with going on the road and having a game that’s tight and not always free-flowing,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “I felt we had a good start to the game and then it’s as if we lost belief because we hadn’t scored.”
With now-first-place Pittsburgh rallying to beat Hartford 3-1 Saturday, the Rowdies (9-6, 27 points) dropped three points behind the Riverhounds in the Atlantic Division of the USL Championship.
Charlotte hadn’t won since June 23, and Tampa Bay seemed to take advantage of that. The Rowdies controlled the first half, maintaining 58 percent possession and holding level in the shot count with four each.
But even though the Rowdies outshot Charlotte in the second half, those were hollow efforts as the hosts were in command when it mattered. The Rowdies finished with a 13-8 shot advantage, but only one of their attempts were on goal. Conner Antley’s 42nd-minute strike was saved by Charlotte goalkeeper Brandon Miller, who earned his fifth clean sheet of the season.
For the first time all year the Rowdies wore their famous striped uniforms on the road. They also went with the same starting lineup from last Saturday’s home victory against last-place Loudoun.
Collins indicated that a warm night in Charlotte, combined with the artificial turf radiating the heat, made for conditions that did not portend a free-flowing night for the Rowdies.
“It was the same for both teams, but to play with the same intensity for 90 minutes as we did last week was always going to be tough. I don’t think the heat’s an excuse. We should have kept the ball better, (it) would have taken that element out,” Collins said.
A positive for the Rowdies was forward Lucky Mkosana playing a seasonlong 30 minutes.
Up next for Tampa Bay is a road match at the New York Red Bulls II on Friday.