The Tampa Bay Rowdies were held to a 1-1 draw by the Ottawa Fury FC on a frustrating Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.
Ottawa scored in the opening minutes and rarely showed much attacking intent again, even after the Rowdies equalized just eight minutes later.
“It was a bit of a scrappy old game, really,” Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell said. “A lot of stoppages. Free kicks taking a long time to restart, water breaks here and there. It was just a scrappy game. I was just hoping we’d nick (a goal) in the end, but it wasn’t to be. It’s unusual because we’ve been excellent at home. The atmosphere tonight was unbelievable and the supporters are absolutely fantastic.”
Steevan Dos Santos gave Ottawa a lead just three minutes into the match, but Georgi Hristov pulled the Rowdies level in the 11th minute with his team-high eighth goal of the season.
The match unfolded as many of Ottawa’s previous visits to St. Petersburg have, with the visitors content to kill the clock and slog to the final whistle.
“It’s up to us to deal with that and not get frustrated and stay patient, it was just one of those nights,” Campbell said.
Ottawa’s early goal was the first the Rowdies have conceded at home since June 10, five matches ago. It was just the sixth time an opponent has scored at Al Lang in 13 matches.
Unfortunately, it was also the second time in two weeks Tampa Bay (10-8-6 (W-T-L), 38 points) has conceded a goal in the first three minutes of a match and had to play from behind.
Just as last week, though, when the Rowdies fell behind 2-0 in five minutes to Saint Louis FC, Tampa Bay fought back quickly.
Hristov’s 11th minute goal came after a Marcel Schäfer cross from the left wing was cleared into his path. Hristov fired a low shot from an angle 12 yards out that beat Ottawa goalkeeper Callum Irving to level the match at 1-1.
“I’d prefer to win and not score a goal, like we’ve done the last four games at home, but that’s soccer,” Hristov said. “A point is still a point.”
Unfortunately, no matter how hard the Rowdies tried after that, the match just never fell into a natural rhythm, due in part to frequent stoppages for medical attention.
Ottawa (7-7-8, 28 points) had a decent chance to take another lead in the 26th minute, but Sito Seoane blasted his first-time effort over the crossbar from the top of the box.
Tampa Bay had a good chance to take the lead for itself in the 59th minute, but a loose touch from Hristov prevented him from shooting. The Rowdies maintained possession, but Alex Morrell’s shot sailed high and wide.
For a moment in the 78th minute, it briefly appeared Ottawa had taken a surprise 2-1 lead after scoring on a free kick. Before referee Jonathan Weiner could even march off the 10 yards and set Tampa Bay’s defensive wall, Fury FC midfielder Gerardo Bruna took a shot on target.
Originally, Bruna pointed toward the center spot and awarded Ottawa the goal. After some confusion and protest from the Rowdies, the goal was called off.
With the match still level at 1-1, Rowdies midfielder Justin Chavez pushed a header just wide of frame.
Neither team would find a winner.
“Truth be told, I don’t know if either team did enough to win,” Campbell said. “I’m slightly biased, so I think we should have nicked it. We got in some real good spots, but we were a yard or two away from the final ball. It was a night of near misses in my opinion.”
Now, the Rowdies have a bye week to regroup for the final push before the USL playoffs begin. Tampa Bay will next be in action on September 2 for a road match against the New York Red Bulls II.
The Rowdies return home on Saturday, September 23, when they host Charlotte Independence at Al Lang Stadium.