ST. PETERSBURG — With Tampa Bay just minutes away from a win and three points to open the spring season, the Rowdies' defense let down at an inopportune time.
With a scramble going on to the keeper's right, two Edmonton attackers moved to the far post and waited until the ball slipped through as Tomi Ameobi scored in the 88th minute to secure a 1-1 tie on Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.
“When that ball gets sent back to their supporting man, we have to be marking people in the box. You can't be spare,” Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. “We weren't marking and they crossed it in and the fella took it very, very well.”
It wasn't the first miscue for the defense as Edmonton midfielder Neil Hlavaty was open in front of the net, but his would-be equalizer was negated by an offside whistle.
The defensive woes continued in the 53rd minute as 6-foot-4 Edmonton forward Frank Jonke slipped through with an unmanned charge toward a free ball, forcing Rowdies keeper Matt Pickens to charge off his line and slide toward the ball, ending in a collision and the referee awarding a penalty kick. Pickens responded with an excellent save, diving to his right to knock away the Hlavaty penalty kick.
“With any player, you have to have a certain amount of amnesia, whereby what's happened is gone and you have to focus on what you can do in the future,” Hill said. “Great for him that he decided to go to the right and he made a fantastic save.”
Pickens, who played 10 seasons with Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids, joined the team after last season's starting keeper, Diego Restrepo, suffered an Achilles' injury five days into the preseason.
The keeper said he wasn't aware of who was taking the penalty kick for Edmonton.
“I don't know him and he doesn't know me, and sometimes that's good,” Pickens said.
“I got a good jump on it and put it out.”
The Rowdies' goal came in the first half at the half-hour mark as Tampa Bay was awarded a free kick on the near side about 25 yards out that was turned away by a defender, but it began a scramble. From there Darel Russell sent a ball toward the keeper's box and Edmonton defender Kareem Moses booted into his own goal to give the Rowdies the first-half advantage.
The draw earned both teams one point.
The Rowdies travel to Indianapolis to take on the Indy 11 next Saturday.