The Rowdies yielded goals early and late in the first half and then lost forward Steevan Dos Santos to a red card in the 57th minute of a 3-1 loss to Memphis 901 FC Wednesday at AutoZone Park in Memphis.
With the loss, Tampa Bay (3-2-4) continued to slip down the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference standings. It is now fifth despite having played more matches than any team in the conference, winning just three times in nine contests.
Memphis’ win put it level on points (13), but with three fewer matches played.
The Rowdies could not have gotten off to a worse start, as Memphis scored just 20 seconds in. Tampa Bay answered shortly afterward, but Memphis scored off a free kick just before halftime and then put the game away with a counter-attack score in the 85th minute.
Memphis carried the momentum from a 2-1 win at previously unbeaten Colorado Springs into a sizzling start. A dynamite three-way passing play ended in a quick Phillip Goodrum goal.
“Obviously, losing a goal on 30 seconds, no one plans on that,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “We recovered fantastically, and after that we were as likely to score as Memphis were. I thought Leo Fernandes created some fantastic opportunities.”
Lewis Hilton had the immediate answer, placing a free kick from 23 yards inside the upper left corner in the fourth minute. Fernandes, after making a key defensive clearance, created three great offensive chances in a five-minute span. But no Rowdies could convert, with Dayonn Harris’ wide-open header going backwards in the 32nd minute.
Shortly before halftime, Memphis’ Aaron Malloy, who had a goal and an assist in the Colorado win, served a perfect free kick that Derek Dodson headed home in the third minute of stoppage time.
“Memphis were full of energy and making us defend. It was such a tight field, really compact field, we couldn’t maybe turn on our game,” Collins said. “We didn’t do a good enough job of recognizing that we were not on best ... just try, can we play a little bit more of the percentages until we find our footing?
“I’m probably most angry about the second goal. We just didn’t deal with a long ball, gave away a cheap foul, and we get punished.”
The Rowdies had a 3-on-2 early in the second half, but Sebastian Guenzatti’s pass to Harris in the box fizzled with a poor shot. Both players were subbed out in a triple substitution in the 71st minute.
Before that, Dos Santos received a second yellow card — the Rowdies were served three cautions in the first half — on an overly aggressive challenge. Dos Santos earlier was whistled for a hard challenge in the 38th minute.
“Steevan’s first yellow card, the game’s going to be ruined by things like that, if that’s a yellow card. I thought some of the yellow cards were really poor,” said Collins.
Memphis was called for 10 fouls, and its only yellow was for booting the ball well out of play to delay a Rowdies throw-in.
Though Tampa Bay still held quality possession and continued to push forward, it was susceptible on the back end and Memphis converted a 3-on-2 late with Chris Allan getting the put-away goal. The Rowdies only registered six shots to Memphis’ nine.
Harris was playing on the right side of the midfield for Sebastian Dalgaard, who Collins said would be out another 2-3 weeks with a “minor” injury: “We’ve missed him.” Not helping matters: Hilton departed with an injury in the first half and is questionable to return this weekend.
Again, the Rowdies faced a team that was well-rested, with Memphis getting 10 days between league matches. Tampa Bay next faces San Diego — which will have gone a full two weeks since its last outing — Saturday at Al Lang Stadium Saturday.