A sleepy five minute period in the second half nearly doomed the Tampa Bay Rowdies to a defeat on Sunday night against the Charlotte Independence, but Keith Savage stepped forward to help the Rowdies to a point with a late equalizer.
Tampa Bay led 1-0 at halftime after a Georgi Hristov penalty kick in the 25th minute, but Dennis Castillo goals in the 51st and 56th minutes saw the home side take a lead that nearly held up until the end of the night.
Savage wouldn’t let the Rowdies lose though, calmly finished his first goal of the season in the 83rd minute to help Tampa Bay to a point.
Tampa Bay nearly won the match at the death as Tamika Mkandawire connected with a Michael Nanchoff free kick, but his header was met by the goalpost in the final seconds of the match.
“I think we performed really well for 85 minutes,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We switched off for five minutes straight after half time and allowed them to score two goals on us, which is very disappointing. Credit to the guys though for showing a lot of character to go on and get the equalizer. I thought we were going to get the winner, too.”
The match was a wild one, with 24 shots between the teams.
Mkandawire was the first to put the ball in the back of the net, heading a corner kick past Charlotte goalkeeper Cody Mizell in the 18th minute, but the referee called the goal off for a foul.
Leo Fernandes helped the Rowdies to a lead midway through the first half, drawing a penalty that would be converted by Hristov to put Tampa Bay ahead 1-0 after 25 minutes.
The Independence started the second half well, with Castillo scoring off a corner kick in the 51st minute to tie the match.
Castillo scored again just five minutes later, the beneficiary of a bit of blind luck.
Mkandawire executed a perfect tackle to poke the ball away from Charlotte forward Jorge Herrera, but his poke put the ball directly into the path of Castillo, who smashed it home to put the shell-shocked Rowdies behind 2-1 after 56 minutes.
“It was a great tackle by Tam,” Campbell said. “The ball could’ve gone anywhere, but unfortunately, it went right to their player and he took a touch and smashed it into the top corner.”
Campbell immediately got aggressive, inserting Martin Paterson into the match off the bench just past the hour mark. Savage followed Paterson onto the field in the 67th minute in a move that would pay big dividends.
“When Keith went on, I had a funny feeling he was going to nick a goal because he times his runs to perfection,” Campbell said. “I’m delighted for Keith because he came on and raised the game. He increased the speed of play and raised the tempo of the team and he deserved the goal.”
Tampa Bay pulled even in the 83rd minute off a seamless counter attack.
Nanchoff spotted Savage unmarked at the penalty spot and delivered a perfect pass for Savage to shoot with his first touch.
The Rowdies veteran made no mistake to score his first goal of the season.
“I’m excited excited to come off the bench and get an opportunity,” Savage said. “I’m just thinking how can I help my teammates and make an impact on the game. What an unbelievable (pass) from (Nanchoff.) He put it on a platter for me and all I had to do was put it on frame.”