ST. PETERSBURG — It wasn't the worst result, but it certainly could have been better for the Rowdies, who squandered a halftime lead in a 1-1 draw to visiting Miami on Saturday before 6,912 at Al Lang Stadium. The teams are now in a three-way tie for the fourth and final NASL playoff spot with Minnesota, which lost its fourth in a row on a late goal to Jacksonville, 1-0.
Tampa Bay (9-8-9, 36 points) has six games remaining, one more than both Minnesota (10-11-6, 36) and Miami (9-9-9, 36).
Eric Avila put the Rowdies ahead with his goal in the 31st minute but Miami defender Rhett Bernstein tied it in the 74th.
"Very tough draw," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "They had two clear-cut scoring chances and they scored one goal."
Tampa Bay held a 15-7 shot advantage, and looked to be benefiting from a Miami team on two days' rest and playing its sixth match in 21 days. Avila put Tampa Bay on top when he controlled a long cross from Georgi Hristov, switched the ball on to his less-favored left foot and pounded it inside the right post.
"In training I've been taking more shots with my left. I took a touch and everyone was shifting over to the right, and it just opened up for me," Avila said.
Tampa Bay had quality combinations the rest of the half and it seemed the better side. But after the break Miami controlled the first dozen minutes and could have certainly claimed an equalizing goal but for Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Miami's Enzo Rennella found himself in alone on the left side of goal and tried to slot the ball to the right post, but the Pickens managed to stick out his leg just at the last moment.
Miami's equalizer came when the ball was headed into the 6-yard box, where Bernstein was sandwiched by two Rowdies but managed to get to the ball first, touch it off to his right and then rifle it into the goal.
Three minutes after entering as a sub, midfielder Keith Savage served up a clever chip to Carlos Preciado, who himself chipped the ball over goalkeeper Daniel Vega but two Miami players got to the goal line for the clearance.
Despite letting two points slip away, the Rowdies — unbeaten in six straight — are still in a good spot if they win their next game. Minnesota visits Al Lang on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
"That's good. I wouldn't have it any other way," Campbell said of his team's quick turnaround.