ST. PETERSBURG — As the final whistle blew Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium, boos rained down from the announced crowd of 6,893 for the Rowdies’ season opener, which ended in a 1-1 tie with Indy Eleven.
The fans were upset with a foul call in the sixth minute of injury time, which led to the game-tying penalty kick by Indy midfielder Aodhan Quinn.
Officials said Rowdies defender Forrest Lasso fouled Indy forward Sebastian Guenzatti inside the box, but the fans believed the foul, if it was one, was outside the box, a belief Rowdies coach Neill Collins shared as well.
“To lose three points (for a victory) based on that decision is most disappointing,” Collins said. “No one in the stadium thought it was a penalty. I don’t even think (Guenzatti) thought it was inside the box. He wasn’t even calling for that.”
Lasso, a three-time USL Championship defender of the year, also said the contact with Guenzatti was outside the box.
“I knew I was outside the box, but the ref made the decision (that it was inside), and that’s his perogative,” said Lasso, who returned to the Rowdies this season after spending last year playing in Sweden. “It stinks when you have a Jumbotron and you can see the plays back. But you just have to respect the refs’ decision.”
Though the disputed call led to the tying penalty kick, Collins said he was disappointed in the overall performance of his team, which includes 10 players who weren’t on last year’s roster.
Without 2022 league MVP Leo Fernandes (out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon) and Guenzatti (who left by mutual consent after playing the previous six years with the Rowdies), Tampa Bay has had to adjust to several new players, including forward Cal Jennings, who showed flashes of brilliance but also some frustrating moments.
Perhaps most noticeably, Jennings had a penalty kick blocked in the 20th minute after Indy Eleven was called for a hand ball in the box. Jennings fired left on target, but Indy keeper Yannik Oettl guessed correctly with a dive and punched the shot away.
After a few more missed opportunities by newly signed players during a scoreless first half, it was a returner in his 99th appearance, midfielder Jake Areman, who finally broke through with a goal in the 57th minute, a left-footed shot from a tight angle that slipped into the net’s left corner. The assist came from another Rowdies veteran, midfielder Sebastian Dalgaard, on a pinpoint cross.
Until the final drama in the extra time, it appeared the goal would be all the Rowdies would need to start their season with a victory.
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“Regardless if could have gotten the victory, I would have been disappointed in our performance,” Collins said. “Our willingness to do the things we want to do was not there.”