ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies fell behind early, then controlled the remainder of the match but had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Hartford on Saturday night before an announced 6,061 at Al Lang Stadium.
The score was tied at 1 at halftime, but the action picked up substantially after a series of four substitutions for Tampa Bay. The final 20 minutes of the USL Championship match were a frantic push forward by the Rowdies, but only one shot actually had to be saved by Hartford goalkeeper Austin Pack.
“I’m happy with the effort and attitude right to the end. I thought the boys pushed all the way to the last second,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “Three games in a short space of time maybe caught up with us slightly.”
The Rowdies (2-0-2, 8 points) were playing their third match in eight days, including the second straight against the Athletic (0-1-1, 1 point), who had a full week’s rest.
Jake La Cava scored his third goal in as many games for Tampa Bay, tying the match off a turnover in the 39th minute. At that point, the sides were nearly equal in scoring opportunities, but the Rowdies would soon change that.
Pack received a yellow card for time wasting. He was booed often by the crowd as on several occasions he stayed on the turf for long periods of time after corralling the ball.
Hartford, in addition to getting some vital defensive stops by Tom Brewitt and second-half sub Tulu, also took its time on several restarts and was carded twice for it. Those tactics led Collins to suggest the governing body of soccer might change how officials keep time.
“I feel that FIFA must look at changing the rules. They actually need to start stopping the clock,” he said. “Soon as someone’s down, stop the clock. There’s no way in the second half that there was only five minutes of wasted time. There was no tempo to the game in the second half.”
Officials added just five minutes of stoppage time in the second half. Hartford rarely pushed forward and had only one shot on goal in the half.
“We had a huge crowd here tonight, lot of youth clubs and that, and it’s just disappointing that’s the type of game they get to see,” Collins added. “Particularly in this country, we want to get people more and more involved. The only way we’re going to do that is to make it an interesting spectacle. And at times tonight, it wasn’t so interesting.’
Hartford struck early when Joel Johnson timed up a perfect right-footed curler from 25 yards out in the sixth minute.
It was the Athletic’s only shot on target in the first half, while the Rowdies would set up shop in Hartford’s defensive third for the next 15 minutes. Steevan Dos Santos lined up a solid header in the 15th minute, but it was deflected away. Dos Santos sent La Cava in on a breakaway, but Pack smothered the low shot.
Hartford had a good chance for a 2-0 lead in the 26th minute after two Rowdies whiffed on a clearance attempt. It led to a 2-on-1 break, but Prince Saydee could not hold up and was drawn offside by the Rowdies’ Aaron Guillen.
The Rowdies broke through with plenty of help from Pack. With forwards Sebastian Guenzatti and Dos Santos pressuring, Pack rumbled forward and put too heavy of a touch on the ball. Hartford’s Conor McGlynn tried to beat La Cava to the ball, but the Rowdies midfielder got to it at the same time, and his deflection rolled slowly into a vacated goal.
“With the way that we play, we always kind of expect to get one off the press. They don’t always go like that, you catch a little bit of a break,” he said. “As I was running toward it, I saw the keeper off his line, and I knew any little touch I got would put it over him. That was definitely the idea behind it, and I’m glad it worked out.”
McGlynn almost knocked into his own net 30 seconds into the second half, his effort to send the ball away instead going backward and skimming the crossbar. McGlynn was replaced seven minutes later as Hartford went to the bench for two early subs.
In between the stoppages of play, Tampa Bay kept trying to solve the five-man back line of Hartford, going with an assortment of long crosses, but to no avail.