ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – North Carolina FC rallied from a two-goal halftime deficit to earn a 2-2 draw against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Friday night at Al Lang Stadium as goals by Dre Fortune and Robbie Kristo brought the visitors back to deny Tampa Bay its third consecutive win.
NCFC had the first real look in the fifth minute when Kristo dragged a shot across the face of goal and just wide of the right post. Two minutes later, however, the Rowdies opened the scoring as Leo Fernandes kept a play alive on the left side after a low cross by Sebastian Guenzatti, and Fernandes’ return ball across the six-yard area found Guenzatti, who fired home from a narrow angle into the left corner.
The visitors had a chance to reply when they kept play alive after a free kick was half-cleared to Pecka. The Brazilian fired through a crowd in the penalty area from 25 yards, but Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro managed to hold onto the effort in the slick conditions.
Tampa Bay doubled its lead in the 22nd minute, and Fernandes was in the middle of the play again. After the side was awarded a kick just outside the top-right corner of the penalty area, the Brazilian curled a left-footed delivery that eluded everyone and found the left corner of the net. NCFC thought it had pulled a goal back eight minutes later, but Kristo was ruled offside as he turned home a cross.
North Carolina threatened again early in the second half, however, and Louro had to be sharp to keep out a low shot from Ben Speas six minutes after the break. The Rowdies goalkeeper had little chance to keep out Fortune’s shot in the 56th minute when an errant pass by Lucky Mkosana after a corner kick came to midfielder, and his first-time shot powered into the left corner.
The visitors continued to pressure over the course of the second half, and with seven minutes to go it paid off. A short passing movement on the right side allowed a chance for D.J. Taylor to deliver a deep cross, and Kristo rose above his marker and sent a header back into the right corner of the net to level the score, earning his side a point.
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Leo Fernandes, Tampa Bay Rowdies – Fernandes recorded a goal and assist in the first half for the hosts, and recorded five interceptions, three tackles and two key passes overall.