The Tampa Bay Rowdies started play in their Suncoast Invitational – part of their preseason – in good fashion Saturday night.
The Rowdies lost, 1-0, to the Philadelphia Union of the MLS. The Union scored its only goal after coach Stuart Campbell pulled many of his starters, leaving the team exposed for a breakaway goal by Derrick Jones in the 73rd minute.
Tampa Bay came within inches of tying the score in the 90th minute when Alex Morrell got a shot on goal, but keeper Andre Blake saved the shot just before time ran out.
“We played very well,” Campbell said. “After the first half, I was pretty happy. I thought it was a pretty even game. It’s a great testament to our players playing against an MLS team. The second half was pretty even as well, until that crazy goal.”
The Rowdies are in their first season of USL play, but in the Suncoast Invitational, the competition is against teams from the MLS, a league the Rowdies intend to join.
The Union starts its season in two weeks, so it is ahead of the Rowdies. But Campbell saw promise in the defeat.
“I liked quite a lot,” Campbell said. “It was our first game against a team that’s a couple of weeks ahead of us. I think they’ve played a couple of games already. I thought the more games we get, the more they’ll improve. We’ll develop relationships. We’ll be a threat going forward. With the speed we have out wide, it’s going to cause problems.
“I’d be more happy if we got the result, which we should have done.”
The Rowdies pulled Joe Cole at the 57-minute mark and pulled five other players in the 63rd. That led to a breakaway by Jones, who beat goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald.
Tampa Bay plays another game in the Suncoast Invitational when it faces Montreal Saturday night.