The script was perfect. The comeback was complete. The debut was perfect.
And, for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, it was all waved off.
The Rowdies, one call away from a memorable comeback, instead settled for a 1-1 draw with Rayo Oklahoma City, which was playing only the sixth game of its history. That tie was a bit of a letdown, considering that it was the debut of midfielder Joe Cole.
It was Cole whose free kick was re-directed into the net by Tommy Heinemann for (apparently) the winning goal, but the official waved off the goal because the referee had not started time again yet.
“It seems the official didn’t blow his whistle,” said Heinemann. “I think he was counting off the yards for the wall. But it didn’t throw the defenders off. They were defending. The players were just on a different page than the referee.”
Had the goal counted, it would have been another late burst to salvage victory for the team. It would have come in the same week that Cole – will they call him Joe Cool? – arrived from England, where he had been a mainstay in the Premier League.
Head coach Stu Campbell said he had planned to play Campbell about 60 minutes between his travel and his unfamiliarity, but Cole played throughout. “It probably would have been sensible for me to come out about the 70th minute,” he said, “but I wanted to play and try to help the lads win.”
After a 0-0 tie to start the season, the Rowdies scored in the 85th minute to draw with Miami, in the 73rd minute to draw with Edmonton, and in the 78th minute to beat Fort Lauderdale. Saturday, Heinemann scored the tying goal in the 74th minute.
“After we scored, we then went on and created more chances, which is why I’m as downbeat as I am,” Campbell said. “When we scored, I expected us to keep going, which we did. I expected us to go and create chances and I expected us to go and get the three points.”
Oklahoma City took a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute as Matt Pickens leapt to catch the ball in front of his own net. But when Pickens came down, he hit teammate Tamika Mkandawire and lost the ball. Michel tapped the ball in for Oklahoma City.
Heinemann, who had started every other game for the Rowdies, entered in the 65th minute. Nine minutes later, he took a pass from Michael Nanchoff and broke free. His shot was touched by Juanan, and was scored as an own goal.
“I enjoyed it,” Cole said. “We should have won the game. But we’ll win more games than we lose, that’s for sure. I thought we were the better side. I think there is a good team in the making here.”