ST. PETERSBURG — A Fort Lauderdale injury turned out to be a stroke of fortune for the visiting Strikers, who dealt the Tampa Bay Rowdies a crippling 3-2 loss Wednesday at Al Lang Stadium.
Shawn Chin, who entered in the 40th minute with Fort Lauderdale trailing 2-0, quickly assisted on two goals then provided the winner in the 56th minute. Chin came in with two goals and two assists all season.
Tampa Bay (5-6-2) had been 7-0-0 against Fort Lauderdale at Al Lang. The Rowdies likely have to win their last five matches to make the playoffs; they have just one victory in their past seven.
"We can't afford to lose any more points," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said.
Chin set up former Rowdie Fafa Picault for two goals within a 90-second span, giving Picault 11 for the season and making it 2-2 at the half. Picault, who scored zero goals during his 2012 time with the Rowdies, was unmarked on both strikes.
The go-ahead play was all Chin, as he made a blistering run to set up Picault. That shot was saved by Matt Pickens but came to Chin for the rebound.
Things looked promising as Darel Russell and Keith Savage were big factors in the Rowdies' two-goal lead. Russell's free kick in the 11th minute was headed off the crossbar by Savage, but Tamika Mkandawire scored on the rebound.
On another free kick at 38 minutes, Savage's pass to an unmarked Russell made it 2-0. But Fort Lauderdale's Mark Anderson had to leave with an injury. Chin entered, and within five minutes the Rowdies' lead was gone.
On both scores Chin played the ball forward, with Picault using his speed to race by the defense.
"Fafa was up for this one," Savage said. "It's common to give up a goal in the last five minutes of the half. They got the one, we said we needed to regroup and we didn't."
Savage very nearly made it 3-3 midway through the second half, re-directing a Corey Hertzog pass off the left post. Both players were then subbed for as Hill desperately tried to push for goals. But the Strikers settled in defensively and gave Tampa Bay nothing.
A win would have pulled the Rowdies within a point of the Strikers and within three of Carolina for the final playoff position. Instead the Strikers (34 Fall Season points) ascended into the last spot with four games remaining. Tampa Bay's final stretch starts Saturday at second-place San Antonio.
Rowdies defender Willie Hunt left at halftime with a hamstring injury.