ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies had plenty to play for Saturday, but their opponent had even more at stake. Though outplaying the Bethlehem Steel all night, Tampa Bay ended up with a 1-1 tie before an announced crowd of 6,611 at Al Lang Stadium.
The tie was secured when substitute Sebastian Guenzatti converted in the 80th minute.
A win would have earned Tampa Bay a postseason berth in the USL's Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay (12-7-10, 46 points) is in fourth place with three games remaining. Its regular-season home finale is Wednesday. A top-four finish must be obtained to have a home playoff game.
Bethlehem went into the game tied with Orlando City B for the East's final two spots, only a point up on New York, which won. The Steel, which got its goal from Seku Conneh in the second half, now is alone in eighth, one point behind New York and hoping for Orlando, one point back in ninth, to lose its match against next-to-last Richmond today.
"When we got the equalizer, I was convinced that we were going to go and win the game," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "We were trying to win the game. They weren't. You (saw) the way they celebrated at the end, you'd have thought they'd won the championship. They're all jumping on each other."
The result was so valuable to Bethlehem, it got a yellow card for wasting time in the 89th minute.
"Fair play to them if they're that happy after a point," Campbell said. "Good luck to them."
Clearly, Campbell was still unhappy about the hard foul Bethlehem levied against Rowdies midfielder Michael Nanchoff in Wednesday's 2-2 draw. It might have knocked him out for the season with an ankle injury.
Campbell said Nanchoff was "lucky" he didn't have his leg "snapped off." Would Campbell like to see Bethlehem in the first round of the playoffs?
"Yeah," he said. "Definitely."
The Rowdies held possession for 61 percent of the night, but Bethlehem took the lead in the 56th minute when Conneh was sent in by James Chambers and provided a solid strike from 20 yards out, low and to goalkeeper Matt Pickens' right.
Guenzatti got his first goal with the Rowdies off a scramble after a free kick. Darnell King retrieved a Bethlehem clearance and produced a nifty chip that Guenzatti settled on the bounce and right-footed past Steel goalkeeper Jake McGuire.
"The ball came to me, and the only thing I could do was put in the goal, and it felt really good," Guenzatti said. "Amazing pass. Me and Darnell get along a lot. I've been playing against him. This is the first time I've played with him, and he's a great player. Strong, fast and he has a lot of potential going forward."