On a drizzly, windy Sunday evening in Tampa, AC St. Louis found itself with a 2-1 late lead over the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies. But as has happened all too often this season, AC St. Louis allowed a stoppage time goal as they game ended in a 2-2 draw. Although the comeback had to be exciting for the Rowdies and the 3,300 fans in attendance, both teams needed three points to further their playoff aspirations, and the result was probably not satisfying for either side. FC Tampa Bay takes the season series from their fellow expansion club, having won 3-0 in May at AB Soccer Park.
AC St. Louis opened up the game with a bit of good luck, as Luke Kreamalmeyer’s cross deflected off of Rowdies’ defender Rob Valentino fow a fifth minute own goal. FC Tampa Bay claimed that the ball Kreamalmeyer crossed in for the deflection was out-of-bounds before he kicked it, but the goal stood. In the 19th minute, the Saints’ leading scorer, Mike Ambersley doubled the lead with a long blast that beat FC Tampa Bay goalkeeper Daryl Sattler. Ambersley’s tally was his eighth of the season in league play.
Alec Dufty was strong in goal for AC St. Louis, nabbing crosses and keeping his team in the lead, until former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Jonny Steele rocketed a shot by Dufty to cut the AC St. Louis lead to one a few minutes before intermission. The Rowdies outshot the Saints 8-6 in the first half, and led in corners 5-2. Rowdies Coach Paul Dalglish pulled a defender in the first half after AC St. Louis’ second goal, going with three on the backline, and bringing in Aaron Wheeler to boost the offense. Wheeler has missed time with injury, but has still managed to score four goals for the Rowdies.
Dufty continued his fine performance in the second half, and it looked like the Coach Dale Schilly’s Saints would leave Tampa with three points in hand, despite the pressure put on by the Rowdies. But in an all too familiar scenario, AC St. Louis allowed a stoppage time game tying goal by Rowdies’ sub Yendry Diaz off a long free kick by Jonny Steele, who was credited with the assist. For the record, AC St. Louis outshot FC Tampa Bay by a narrow margin, 18-16, and corner kicks were even at seven each. Dufty had to make seven saves, however, compared to the two that his counterpart Sattler had to make for the Rowdies.
The draw leaves FC Tampa Bay with a fingertip grip on the eighth USSF D2 playoff position, tied with NSC Minnesota at 28 points. For AC St. Louis, goals allowed after the 87th minute mark have cost eleven points in five contests, and the inability of the team to stop leaking late goals will probably keep the young, improved AC St. Louis team out of the playoffs. AC St. Louis have accumulated 23 points with six games remaining. The club deserves credit for adding talent to the roster, including teenaged midfielder Luis Gil on loan from Real Salt Lake (who started tonight’s game), along with signing former New England Revolution midfielder Michael Videira and acquiring midfielder Nicki Patterson, who played last for Real Maryland in USL-2. But only getting four points in their last five games leave the young Saints with a huge uphill fight to gain the playoffs, with their next game at home September 5 against Miami FC.
FC Tampa Bay has also only gained four points in their last five games, despite the additions of Maykel Galindo on loan from Chivas USA, along with the earlier acquisitions of midfielders Steele and Ricardo Sanchez from Vancouver. They get an almost two-week break before travelling to Rochester to take on the first-place USL Conference Rhinos on September 11. For Rowdies fans, the hope will be that the break will give Paul Dalglish and his staff time to ready the team for the last month of the schedule and claim a playoff spot.
FC Tampa Bay Starting Lineup: Sattler, Valentino, Valentin, Kljestan,Donoho, Sanchez, Steele, Tan, Nyazamba, Millen, Galindo, Subs Used: Wheeler, Diaz, Burt, Yamada
AC St. Louis Starting Lineup: Dufty, Traynor, Lesko, Bauer, Videira, Kreamalmeyer, Gil, Gauchinho, Stisser, Salvaggione, Ambersley Subs Used: Cole, Bloom, Cosgriff