ST. PETERSBURG — It's not the result they wanted, but it certainly could have been worse. Neill Collins' 87th-minute header off a corner kick was the reward the Rowdies settled for Saturday night during a 1-1 draw with St. Louis before an announced 6,068 at Al Lang Stadium.
In a game where so much contact resulted in not just a foul but a yellow card, a free kick looked bound to decide matters.
After not managing a shot on goal for almost a full hour, St. Louis went on top on a bit of free kick brilliance from team-leading scorer Jose Angulo.
But after three offensive-minded substitutions in the next 15 minutes, it was a Rowdies defender who scored when Collins headed the ball through off a Michael Nanchoff cross.
"I thought we showed a lot of character out there," Collins said. "Last year we probably wouldn't have managed to come back and get that point."
Tampa Bay (6-3-3, second in USL East) enjoyed the bulk of the game's possession (60 percent).
Alex Morrell sprung in with a shot attempt four minutes into the second half, and two minutes later Joe Cole took a run but his toe-poked shot didn't have the proper power. Cole made a claim for a penalty shortly after, as he went flying to the turf on Marcel Schafer's perfect setup.
But St. Louis' first shot on goal, after a foul, produced the first score in the 58th minute.
Angulo's left-footed shot curled around the Rowdies wall, leaving Tampa Bay goalkeeper Matt Pickens frozen as the ball flew past him, well inside the right post.
But after plenty of pressure, Collins finally pounded home Tampa Bay's seventh corner kick of the night. The final count was 8-1, and 12-3 in shots in favor of the Rowdies.
"We got one on the money there. I thought we deserve it," Collins said.
Cautions came frequently from official Danielle Chesky, with five issued to the Rowdies, three to St. Louis (3-3-3).
"I don't think there was a bad tackle all night, really," said Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell.
"For me, a lot of the yellow cards were soft. I don't think there was any real malice or real intent on any of the tackles."
Each side drew a caution in the first dozen minutes, with Leo Fernandes getting docked six minutes in for Tampa Bay, then being fouled by St. Louis' Wesley Charpie five minutes later.
"When you're booked, it certainly takes a bit of an edge off you. I think we'll all agree the game was very stop-start. We would have preferred a much faster, flowing game. That set a tone, the first few minutes," Collins said.