As evidenced by it not having happened in a little more than a year, the Rowdies don’t believe in settling for ties.
That wasn’t the plan Wednesday against Pittsburgh, either, until the late stages, when an accumulation of circumstances dictated the approach and the Rowdies played the host Riverhounds to a 0-0 draw. The teams stayed tied atop the Atlantic Division with 34 points apiece.
It was Tampa Bay’s first draw since Aug. 16, 2020.
“We always try to go for the win,” said Rowdies coach Neill Collins. “But I think you’ve got to respect the (standings) point (Wednesday), in a very difficult environment, on the road against a team that’s ranked right at the top of the table.”
It’s a much better outcome for Tampa Bay than Pittsburgh, which had lost two straight to see a six-point lead evaporate. With two fewer matches played, the Rowdies (11-6-1) control their own fate.
After a 1-4 slide, the Rowdies are on a three-match unbeaten streak. Unlike Friday’s 1-0 victory over Hartford, where his team pressed forward for the winner and got it in the 85th minute, Collins took everything into account Wednesday and chose to defend across the game’s last quarter-hour.
“I did consider bringing on (forward) Juan Tejada to give us some extra impetus,” he said. “I just didn’t feel like we were getting the ball up there enough to really go for that goal, and thought it was probably wise to accept the point.”
Conditions also played a role. A first-half rain turned the artificial turf at Highmark Stadium slick, limiting the Rowdies’ ability to string together passes. Pittsburgh, more accustomed to the surface, held the ball 65 percent of the time, though it did not result in a single shot on goal.
The Riverhounds came close to one in the second half. Within five minutes, Rowdies defender Aaron Guillen cleared away crosses that could have led to tap-in goals. And in the 83rd minute, former UCF standout Louis Perez curled a beautiful shot from 25 yards that banged off the crossbar.
“It was definitely a team defensive performance, but you’ve got to look at the back three (Guillen, Forrest Lasso and Jordan Scarlett),” Collins said. “They had excellent performances.”
Tampa Bay had five shots in the first half, with Jordan Adebayo-Smith’s backward header beating goalkeeper Daniel Vitiello, only to be cleared off the goal line by Shane Wiedt. Laurence Wyke had a rip from distance in the 37th minute, but Vitiello saved it. Pittsburgh almost put one into its own net off a Lewis Hilton free kick early in the second half, but Vitiello (four saves) again was quick to respond.
Former Riverhounds standout Steevan Dos Santos played 70 minutes and had two of Tampa Bay’s eight shots. Pittsburgh finished with five. With wingbacks Leo Fernandes and Dayonn Harris injured, Conner Antley and Sebastian Dalgaard were sturdy in playing the full 90 minutes.