It was a grey and drizzly Saturday night when the Rowdies came to town. But the rain couldn’t keep the fans away as the Ottawa Fury and Tampa Bay Rowdies duked it out in front of just over 6,000 Fury faithful. It was a tense match up as the Fury are focused on a post season playoff spot and Tampa Bay were eager to put their winless streak behind them with new coach Stuart Campbell at the helm.
The Fury saw only one change to the line up from Wednesday’s match against New York as new comer Ugur Albayrak saw his first start for the team. They lined up as always with Romuald Peiser in goal, and Mason Trafford, Colin Falvey, Rafael Alves, and Ryan Richter in front of him. With both Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Julian de Guzman available on the bench but neither ready for a full 90, the midfield saw forward Carl Haworth drop back alongside captain Richie Ryan and Mauro Eustaquio. Albayrak’s role was winger to Tom Heinemann’s striker and Paulo Junior rounded out the front line. They were facing a determined Rowdies line up featuring the talent of some of Tampa Bay’s most dangerous players in Maicon Santos, who leads the team in goals, and Georgi Hristov, who leads the team in assists. Other Rowdies top scorers Martin Nunez, Darwin Espinal, and veteran Brian Shriver started the game on the bench, which speaks to Tampa Bay’s depth as a team.
The first half saw much of the action and as coach Marc Dos Santos later confirmed, it was the Fury’s better half of the game. It was the Rowdies who got the first shot off as Peiser saved a shot from Hristov early on in the 12th minute. Fury forward Ugur Albaryak was looking threatening but had to come off in the 17th minute after sustaining a hamstring injury allowing Brazilian Oliver into the game. Immediately after, another Fury Brazilian, Paulo Junior, would get his first goal of the NASL season after picking up a lose ball in the 18th minute. The Fury struck again ten minutes later as birthday boy Oliver shot a pass from Tom Heinemann past Rowdies keeper Matt Pickens. But Tampa Bay came up with an answer almost immediately when defender Tamika Mkandawire capitalized off a free kick taken by Hristov.
Although the score remained 2-1 until late in the game, the second half belonged to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. They had the bulk of the possession and tested the Ottawa back line. Fury keeper Peiser was called on to make several spectacular saves to keep the Fury ahead. Tampa Bay put all of their energy into offensive efforts and in the 87th minute with everyone forward, the Rowdies leveled the score when forward Darwin Espinal got a shot past Peiser off a pass from defender Stefan Antonijevic. It would be too late in the game for Ottawa to pull off a win and so they came away with one point from the game that ended 2 all.
Speaking about the game after, Fury head coach Marc Dos Santos gave all credit to the Tampa Bay side. “They’re in a situation pretty much of life or death because they’ve lost I think 6 out of their last 8 matches, something like that. And they didn’t want to lose this one.” Dos Santos knows his side’s performance was less than perfect and said as much. “I think it was very realistic what happened. I think that we didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t deserve the three points. We actually have to be very happy and lucky that we got a point out of this. We took bad decisions.” He and the team remain realistic in their hunt for the post season and a play off position. “This is going to remind us how long and how difficult and how hard it’s going to be the walk towards the playoffs. Whoever thought that our walk towards the playoffs is going to be easy; media, fans, players, all delusional. It’s going to be very very difficult. We’re in a good position that we control. But very difficult to make the playoffs.” The Fury continue their journey in San Antonio next Saturday, September 5 against the Scorpions.
Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fury.