The Tampa Bay Rowdies made the journey up to WakeMed Soccer Park in North Carolina this weekend, playing the hosting Railhawks to a 1-1 draw. The one-goal-scoring effort earned the Rowdies their 8th overall point of the season and brought their record to 2-2-1, good enough to retain second place in the NASL standings. They trail only the first place New York Cosmos — the only team to beat the Rowdies so far this season.
A Carolina 6th minute score from Nacho Novo, the Railhawks’ lone on-field forward, started off the night’s scoring. Novo plunked it into the bottom left corner of the Rowdies’ goal after fielding a Tiyi Shiplane cross deep inside the penalty box. Shiplane, who outmaneuvered Rowdies defender Ben Sweat, ended up right on top of the goal line before breaking off his low, grass-grazing cross to Novo. Rowdies goalie Matt Pickens, one of last weeks’ heroes with his barrage of late-match saves, never had time to adjust.
The early goal for the Railhawks would be the only bright spot for Carolina during the first 45 minutes of play. The Rowdies changed their formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 after the Carolina score. The adjustment not only helped the Rowdies’ match up better with Carolina’s defender-and-midfielder-heavy lineup, but also led to a19th minute one-touch equalizing goal by Rowdies’ midfielder Martin Nunez. Nunez, who got himself an equalizer last match as well, played a clean cross from fellow midfielder Georgi Hristov.
Nunez used his right foot to pop the cross into the lower left corner of the goal — an impressive one-touch lazer, and his second score of the season.
Only giving up one goal in the first half of play was a stat the Railhawks had to be proud of though. The Rowdies continued to dominate the match after giving up the game’s first score. The Rowdies had a handful of other shots that were stunningly close to breaking the tie as well.
In the 15th minute, Maicon Santos, the Rowdies’ big-bodied Brazilian center forward, barely overshot an attempted lob over Carolina goalie Hunter Gilstrap. The shot banged gently off the top crossbar. The 26th minute saw Santos come up just short once more.
He missed wide on a header after receiving a well-placed cross from Tampa Bay native Darnell King. Then came a flurry of Rowdies’ shots on goal from inside the box in the 33rd minute. They were set up by an inbound throw-in from Rowdies’ forward Corey
Hertzog, who has the upper body strength to get his throw-ins into the penalty box from the sideline, much like a corner kick. Gilstrap, the Carolina goalie, had a couple nice saves to keep the match knotted-up going into half time.
Carolina’s coach, Collin Clarke, was not happy at half.
“We started to do what we wanted to do and not what we’ve been practicing and working on all week,” said Clarke during his half time interview. “I’ve got a player on the right hand side here, Tiyi Shiplane, who gets the ball, makes a couple of steps over, gets past their left back and creates a goal. He has not had the ball at his feet since. That’s ridiculous.”
The second half didn’t have quite as much scoring excitement as the first. While the Rowdies still managed to control the pace of the game, they couldn’t find a way to score a winning goal. Their defense was lock-down though, despite playing with only ten men for the final fifteen minutes of the match.
Bulgarian midfielder Georgi Hristov, the Rowdies’ leader in assists (3), was given a red card and ejected from the match following his seemingly blatant, though somewhat gentle, cleat stomp to the back of a downed Railhawks’ defender’s head. Hristov had been tangled up with the defender during a 50/50 ball seconds before the incident.
Rowdies’ head coach Thomas Rongen would take the 1-1 draw though.
“We did a good job of defending the 18-yard box,” said coach Rongen. “We changed a few things […] Getting our lines more together [following the Carolina score] helped us defensively, but [helped] also with the ball.”
The Rowdies head to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, to play the Ottawa Fury FC next Saturday afternoon. They’ll be back in Tampa Bay on May 16 to take on their long-time Coastal Cup rival, the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, at Al Lang Stadium.