ST. PETERSBURG — Joe Cole nearly sparked a comeback with a second-half rally, but the Tampa Bay Rowdies dropped a 3-2 decision to Indy Eleven Wednesday night at Al Lang Stadium.
With the game tied at 2, Tampa Bay nearly pulled ahead but Indy’s Nicki Paterson scored from the top of the box in the 85th minute.
“It’s absolutely devastating (to have lost this match,” Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell said. “We had them penned in for longer than 30 minutes in that second half and I really thought we were going to go and get the third goal.”
The Rowdies trailed 2-0 at halftime after a shaky start to the match.
Indy’s Duke Lacroix scored to cap a run in the 16th minute and Jair Reinoso finished a cutback from Lacroix in the 31st to double Indy’s lead barely half an hour into the match.
It was the second consecutive match the Rowdies fell behind 2-0 only to come back and equalize the match in the second half.
Needing a win to stay in contention, the Rowdies opened the second half on the front foot and dominated the second 45 minutes.
It took until the 53rd minute for Tampa Bay to find its way back into the match, with Georgi Hristov forcing Cardona to make a save with a low, hard shot. Cardona made the save, but Cole was positioned to pounce on the rebound and cut the Rowdies’ deficit to 2-1.
Cole was at it again in the 68th minute, perfectly placing a shot into the upper 90 of the goal frame and giving Cardona no chance to make the save.
Tampa Bay fought desperately for a go-ahead goal late in the match, but Paterson's goal in the 85th minute ended all hope of a positive result for the Rowdies.
“With what was at stake, we didn’t show enough aggression or enough tempo in our play until we were 2-nil down, which is mind-blowing, really,” Campbell said. “That start we had to the first half cost us the game tonight. … We knew what was at stake and we went out there as if we were the team that was set in the playoffs. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Tampa Bay has a difficult task ahead to qualify for The Championship, the NASL’s four-team playoffs, but the door remains ajar. The Rowdies trail Minnesota United and Rayo OKC by four points in the NASL Combined Standings with two games remaining and six points on offer.
The Rowdies take on the Ottawa Fury FC this Saturday in the 2016 home finale.