The Tampa Bay Rowdies took another positive step toward the USL Cup Playoffs Wednesday afternoon with a 2-2 draw on the road against the Bethlehem Steel FC.
Georgi Hristov and Hunter Gorskie scored the goals for Tampa Bay as they extended their unbeaten run to three games. With this point earned, the Rowdies are now just four points away from clinching a playoff berth.
Tampa Bay (12-9-7 (W-T-L), 45 points) led 1-0 and 2-1, but the Steel FC fought back on both occasions to earn a point.
“It’s mixed emotions really,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “Getting a point on the road is always good, but I’m disappointed we didn’t get all three because we played really, really well. We spoke before the game about the importance of getting a result and we got one. A point on the road is never bad, but it’s slightly disappointing we didn’t get all three.”
Wednesday’s contest was a physical one, played in unseasonably brutal heat in the Lehigh Valley. The temperature at kickoff required water breaks in each half as the sun beat down.
After a fairly slow start to the match, Tampa Bay took its first lead of the afternoon in the 36th minute when Marcel Schäfer was hauled down just inside Bethlehem’s 18-yard box.
Hristov stepped forward and buried the penalty, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season.
The Rowdies carried that lead into halftime, but a sluggish start to the second half cost them almost immediately.
Bethlehem’s leading scorer, Cory Burke, made a dynamic run between Gorskie and Rowdies right-back Darnell King and was fed the ball by Matthew Real. Tampa Bay goalkeeper Matt Pickens left his line and attempted to close the angle, but Burke calmly finished past him to level the match in the 46th minute.
Tampa Bay didn’t have to wait long to reclaim its lead, with Gorskie scoring his third goal in four matches to give the Rowdies a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute. Marcel Schäfer provided the assist off a free kick from the left side.
Bethlehem (11-6-11, 39 points) didn’t back down and pushed hard enough to equalize in the 78th minute via Seku Conneh.
Hristov turned the ball over in the Rowdies’ half and just one pass later, the Steel FC had its equalizer.
“It’s always tough (to not win,)” Gorskie said. “We’re disappointed not to get three points — especially when we had the lead twice — but that’s football. It’s part of the game. It’s good to get a point and we’ll play them again on Saturday.”
With Wednesday’s match in the books, the Rowdies remain in fourth place in the USL’s Eastern Conference, two points behind Charleston in third place and two points ahead of Rochester in fifth. Tampa Bay is three points out of second place with a game in hand.
Up next, both teams will head to Florida for a weekend rematch in St. Petersburg Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.