ST. PETERSBURG — League-leading Cincinnati drew a penalty kick less than one minute into the match, creating an uphill climb that the Rowdies looked ready to make, only to witness a dubious foul in the closing minutes to fall 2-1 Saturday.
Tampa Bay (7-11-7) outshot Cincinnati 30-6, but fell deeper into jeopardy of missing the postseason. Two of Cincinnati's shots came via penalty kicks, both converted by Emmanuel Ledesma, who has 12 goals on the season.
As much as the early penalty set the Rowdies back, it was a 62nd-minute red card for the visitors that helped Tampa Bay rally. Kwadwo Poku's low strike in the 75th minute tied the score.
But in the 85th, officials awarded a penalty when Cincinnati's Pa Konate, who had seen a ball get too far away from him in the box, was nudged by a sliding Papia Diakete. Konate hit the turf, the foul was given and Ledesma slotted home his second of the match amid a chorus of boos at Al Lang Stadium.
Cincinnati (17-3-6) had not scored in three previous trips to Al Lang, but that changed 33 seconds into the match as the Rowdies' Afrim Taku was called for a foul on Jimmy McLaughlin. Rowdies goalie Daniel Vega made the right read on the PK, but he couldn't prevent Ledesma from converting.
From there, the visitors seemingly played for a 1-0 win. Tampa Bay outshot Cincinnati 13-3 in the first half, increasing it to 20-4 after 60 minutes. Then Cincinnati's Blake Smith was given a yellow card for wasting time, his second of the match, giving the Rowdies a man advantage the rest of the way.
Poku then tied it, pulling the ball around two defenders for his first goal with the Rowdies.
Rowdies defender and former captain Tam Mkandawire, who announced Friday that he was retiring after the match, did not play. Mkandawire played 19 professional seasons.