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Tampa Bay Rowdies grabbed a dramatic injury time goal to extend Minnesota’s late-game misery on Wednesday night as they snatched a crucial 2-2 draw At Al Lang Stadium.
It was a match that has been circled on both team’s calendar for the past few weeks, as Minnesota United traveled to St. Petersburg with the clubs locked on 36 points apiece and contending for the final NASL postseason spot. Christian Ramirez and J.C. Banks twice gave the Loons the lead only for strikes by Georgi Hristov and Keith Savage to level things up. The teams stayed tied for fourth place and the final playoff spot in the NASL, but the Rowdies have a crucial game in hand.
The Rowdies started the match on the front foot, keeping possession and working the ball back and forth looking for a clear path through the United back four. Joe Cole had the first Rowdy attempt in the 12th minute when he found some space just right of goal and within the penalty area, but was denied by United goalkeeper Sammy Ndjock who comfortably saved a powerful shot from six yards out by the former England international.
It didn’t take long for the Loons to strike back, with Kevin Venegas taking advantage of open real estate along the right side of the pitch. Venegas received the ball just beyond midfield and dribbled toward the 18-yard-box. The Rowdies defense was slow to react and allowed Venegas too much space. Seeing the opportunity, Venegas drove a hard ball into the box, bending it with the outside of his boot and bound for the bottom corner of the far portion of the net. However, his shot deflected off Christian Ramirez and out of play.
Scoreless since scoring a penalty on September 17th, Ramirez extended his lead on top of the scorer’s list with his 16th goal of the season in the 17th minute. High pressure from United saw Ibson intercept a long ball, chesting it down quickly and passing it along to Jeb Brovsky. Taking a short touch on the turn, Brovsky hit a dipping shot hard toward the upper corner of the net. Matt Pickens could only get a fingertip on the shot as the ball clattered off the crossbar and bounced back to Ramirez standing all alone in front of the net. Ramirez tucked it away home easily for the opening goal of the match and an early 1-0 lead to the visitors.
In the 32nd minute the Rowdies evened things up as midfielder Eric Avila delivered a cross into the box from the right wing. The ball found Tom Heinemann on the right edge of the six yard box and he flicked it up and over two United defenders to an Georgi Hristov who finished neatly into a relatively open net for his 9th goal of the year.
The Rowdies held a significant edge in possession through the opening 45 minutes and they started the second half on the front foot before conceding another soft goal in the 51st minute.
Venegas played a high, dipping cross to the middle of the box, that Pickens flapped at. The ball fell to Banks who took a touch away from net then turned and let rip low through PC’s legs and into the back of the net.
The Loons almost extended their led in the 57th minute as Stefano Pinho nearly beat Pickens with a bending shot from the top of the box in the 57th minute that the keeper parried away for a corner.
The Rowdies then took control of the game as they pressed for an equalizer. The goal eventually came three minutes into stoppage time as the ball fell to the feet of Keith Savage who lashed the ball home in dramatic fashion.
“I was in the right spot at the right time,” Savage said of his late, late equalizer. “It could have fallen to anyone. We were pushing for that goal and I’m really glad we got it. It means we’re still in it, right there in the hunt for the playoffs. … It’s going to be a battle to the last game.”
The match finished with both clubs taking one point a piece and with just four games to go, Minnesota holds a slight edge due to goal differential but the Rowdies have a game in hand over United. Meanwhile, Miami is lurking just a point behind leaving the table wide open as the postseason rapidly approaches.
Rowdies XI (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, Tamika Mkandawire (c), Neill Collins, PC; M Justin Chavez (Carlos Preciado 70′), Keith Savage; M Eric Avila (Kalif Alhassan 80′), Joe Cole, Georgi Hristov; F Tommy Heinemann