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Tampa Bay Rowdies inch towards playoffs with 1-1 draw against Bethlehem

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Sebastian Guenzatti helped the Tampa Bay Rowdies take another step toward the USL Cup Playoffs Saturday night, scoring a late game-tying goal to help the Rowdies to a 1-1 draw against the Bethlehem Steel FC at Al Lang Stadium. 

After a scoreless first half, the Rowdies (12-10-7 (W-T-L), 46 points) fell behind against the run of play in the 56th minute.

Tampa Bay was made to sweat until the 80th minute before Guenzatti poked home an assist from Darnell King to even the match at 1-1.

The remainder of the match was chaotic, but neither team was able to find a winner.

“I felt there was only one team trying to win the game tonight,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We were pressing and pressing and pressing and just couldn’t get that second goal. We made hard work it conceding early in the second half.”

With another point in hand, the Rowdies remain in fourth place, one point behind the Charleston Battery in third and two points behind the Charlotte Independence in second. Tampa Bay has a game in hand over Charlotte and will have one over the Battery after it plays in Ottawa Sunday afternoon.

A win would have clinched the Rowdies’ first postseason berth since 2012, but Tampa Bay will now have to wait until Wednesday’s regular season home finale against the New York Red Bulls II for another chance.

The Rowdies and Steel FC (11-7-11, 40 points) were coming off a 2-2 draw against one another Wednesday and both sides started the match a little bit slowly.

Tampa Bay’s best chance to open the scoring in the first half came in the 20th minute, when Martin Paterson helped to create a turnover that freed him to go one-on-one against Bethlehem goalkeeper Jake McGuire, but Paterson skied his shot well off target.

Two minutes later, the Steel FC had one of its best early chances, with Keith Savage nearly scoring an own goal in the process of clearing a dangerous cross out of the area.

Tampa Bay nearly took a lead just before halftime on a Darwin Jones corner kick that reached Hunter Gorskie at the far post, but Gorskie was unable to score his second goal in as many matches against Bethlehem this week, putting his shot over the crossbar.

In the 56th minute, with the match still scoreless, Bethlehem won a free kick in its own half and passed the ball around for nearly 30 seconds before launching forward, with James Chambers feeding Conneh for the go-ahead goal from outside the box.

It was Bethlehem’s only shot on target all night.

“I can’t think of any other chances they really had on goal,” Campbell said. “The first one they had, they took, and it made it a little bit more difficult for us.”

Trailing at home and without leading scorer Georgi Hristov (suspended), the Rowdies turned to Guenzatti off the bench in the 64th minute.

It took until the 80th minute, but, eventually, Tampa Bay found its way back into the game.

A surging run forward from King won the Rowdies a free kick just outside Bethlehem’s box.

Off the free kick, Alex Morrell’s shot was blocked, but the ball bounced out to King, who took control and lifted his head to serve the ball back into the box.

Guenzatti lost his marker, took a touch off his chest to settle the ball and then fired past McGuire to pull the Rowdies level at 1-1 with 10 minutes to play.

“I’m always ready when the coach needs me,” Guenzatti said. “As a starter or a sub, you’ve always got to be ready. The ball came to me and the only thing I could do was put it in the goal and it felt really good. It was a great pass from Darnell.”

Neither team created a great chance to win the match in the final minutes of the game.

Now, the Rowdies turn their attention to Wednesday, with another chance to clinch a postseason berth against the New York Red Bulls II at Al Lang.

Scoring Summary
Bethlehem – Seku Conneh – 56th minute (Assisted by James Chambers)
Rowdies – Sebastian Guenzatti – 80th minute (Assisted by Darnell King)

Caution Summary
Bethlehem – Josh Heard – 26th minute
Rowdies – Hunter Gorskie – 29th minute
Bethlehem – Yosef Samuel – 58th minute
Rowdies – Joe Cole – 62nd minute
Bethlehem – Aaron Jones – 74th minute
Bethlehem – Jake McGuire – 89th minute

Starting Lineups
Rowdies XI (4-3-3): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, Hunter Gorskie, Neill Collins, Zac Portillos; M Keith Savage, Joe Cole (c), Marcel Schäfer; F Alex Morrell, Martin Paterson (Walter Restrepo 75′), Darwin Jones (Sebastian Guenzatti 64′)

Bethlehem XI (4-2-3-1): GK Jake McGuire; D Aaron Jones, Hugh Roberts, Matt Mahoney, Matt Real; M James Chambers (c), Michael Pellegrino; M Brenden Aaronson, Josh Heard (Chris Nanco 46′), Yosef Samuel (Cory Burke 59′); F Seku Conneh (Santi Moar 77′)

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