ROWDIES FALL 3-2 AGAINST FORT LAUDERDALE STRIKERS
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A couple of wild minutes doomed the Tampa Bay Rowdies to a 3-2 loss to the visiting Fort Lauderdale Strikers under a full moon at Al Lang Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Rowdies had a 2-0 lead late in the first half and seemed to be cruising toward a fifth-consecutive Coastal Cup when a Strikers substitution changed the path of the match. Fort Lauderdale midfielder Mark Anderson had to be taken out of the match after picking up an injury and was replaced by Shawn Chin in the 42nd minute.
A minute later, Chin set up former Rowdie Fafa Picault for Picault’s 10th goal of the season.
A minute after that, Chin again set up Picault for the forward’s 11th goal of the season, evening the match at 2-2.
Early in the second half, it was Picault who took a shot for his hat trick, but Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens was on the spot to make the save. The ball deflected to Chin, who kicked it into the net for a 3-2 Strikers lead in the 56th minute that the Rowdies wouldn’t recover from.
“It’s inexcusable for that to happen at home,” Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. “For whatever reason, there seems to be a mental blockage when we play at Al Lang. It’s not through the efforts of the fans and those who come out to support us. The fans encourage the players all the way through the game. We have a lot of work to do.”
Tampa Bay started the match well and it was defender Tamika Mkandawire that put the Rowdies ahead in the 11th minute, finishing past Strikers goalkeeper Kamil Contofalsky after Keith Savage sent a header off the crossbar on Darel Russell’s free kick delivery. The goal was Mkandawire’s third of the season.
The Rowdies doubled their lead in the 38th minute when Savage took a free kick from the right channel, delivering it short to an unmarked Russell, who collected it with a touch before smashing it past Contofalsky for a 2-0 lead.
“We’ve had a few occasions this year where (that play) looked to be there, but we haven’t tried it,” Savage said. “It looked nice and there were two options, Darel Russell and one behind him. I was going for the one behind him and hoping for a little dummy, but (Russell) took a great touch and did it himself.”
This is the first time this season the Rowdies have lost a match after scoring first.
“When you give up a goal, you need to regroup and we didn’t,” Savage said. “They’ve got one guy (Picault) with a lot of pace. They didn’t even do anything special. They put it behind and he ran. That definitely hurt. We expected to come out and be the better team and we weren’t. (Picault) was up for the game and up for the challenge.”
The Rowdies aggressively sought an equalizing goal in the second half, sending wave after wave of attacks toward the Strikers defense, but Contofalsky made every save he needed to make.
In the 64th minute, Brian Shriver found space to take a shot from inside the 18-yard box and beat Contofalsky, but his effort caromed off the goal post and was eventually kicked out of play by the Strikers.
Ricardo Morris and Lucky Mkosana entered the match in the 65th minute as the Rowdies pushed forward, with Mkosana’s speed creating plenty of chances for Tampa Bay.
Mkosana’s best shot at tying the match came in the 72nd minute, when he lost his defender and received a cross from the right wing, redirecting it hard toward net with his first touch, but a last-ditch dive by Contofalsky kept it from crossing the line.
Second-half substitute Walter Ramirez nearly made it 4-2 in favor of the Strikers in the 79th minute, but Pickens made an excellent diving save to keep the Rowdies in the match.
After that, the Strikers dug deep in their own half with the Rowdies unable to find a way through the sea of defenders and start their comeback.
Picault was forced out of the match with an injury in the 86th minute. With the Strikers already out of substitutions, the Rowdies played the closing minutes with a man advantage but were unable to score an equalizing goal.
Rowdies: Tamika Mkandawire - 10th minute
Rowdies: Darel Russell - 38th minute (Assisted by Keith Savage)
Fort Lauderdale: Fafa Picault - 43rd minute (Assisted by Shawn Chin)
Fort Lauderdale: Fafa Picault - 44th minute (Assisted by Shawn Chin)
Fort Lauderdale: Shawn Chin- 56th minute
Rowdies: Pickens; Gafa, Hunt (Rodrigues 46'), Mkandawire (c), Wallace; Frimpong, Russell, Savage (Morris 65'); Shriver, Hertzog (Mkosana 65'), Hristov
Fort Lauderdale Strikers: Contofalsky; King, Alves, Antonijevic, Guerrero (c); Pecka, Marcelin; Anderson (Chin 42'), Brito (Nurse 67'), Nunez (Ramirez 75'); Picault