Nacho Novo posted his league-leading third goal of the season to pace the RailHawks offense while goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap made four saves.
Former RailHawks midfiedler Martin Nunez scored for Tampa Bay and keeper Matt Pickens was equal to the task in stopping three shots to earn the tie.
“Disappointed that we didn’t get the three points as we always are when we play at home,” Carolina head coach Colin Clarke said.
“(We) started very well, the first 15 minutes on a great goal. Then, got away from what had been successful for us, I felt.”
It didn’t take long to get the crowd of 4,042 in attendance to their feet as Novo put Carolina (1-3-1) ahead 1-0 in the sixth minute on a redirect of a crossed ball from Ty Shipalane.
Shipalane turned Rowdies defender Ben Sweat inside-out along the right-side perimeter of the box before breaking towards the goal line, and sending a 10-yard pass across the crease to an unmarked Novo.
The marker forced Tampa Bay (2-2-1) to press quickly in response which almost paid off, if not for a struck crossbar eight minutes later.
Play continued from each end of the pitch until the Rowdies tied the game 1-1 as Nunez finished the play on a setup by Georgi Hristov.
“We forced Carolina in the first half, after the first goal, to be a little more direct,” Tampa Bay head coach Thomas Rongen said.
“We got back in the game. We defended a little bit better, where the ball’s further away from the goal, gained some possession, hit the cross bar, and created a few other good opportunities before we scored our tying goal.”
Three consecutive strikes on goal from Tampa Bay’s Maicon Santos, Stefan Antonijevic, and Hristov were turned away by Gilstrap and his back line during the 33rd minute as both teams remained tied.
A corner for Carolina threatened a few minutes later, but didn’t materialize into anything further as Pickens made a save on a Daniel Scott header to end the attack.
Both teams remained tied at halftime.
Back-to-back corners for the RailHawks in the 58th minute nearly ended the deadlock, but Novo’s kick off the bounce hit the outside right portion of the goal.
Following a break in play due to an injury to the Rowdies’ Santos, Carolina quickly went on the attack with an extra burst of energy gathered during the stoppage.
Strong back line play and quick transition passes put Tampa Bay in positions to break into the 18, but Gilstrap denied two separate opportunities as play approached the 70th minute.
The Rowdies fell to 10 players for the rest of the game as Hristov was issued a red card in the 76th minute for stepping through on Wells Thompson’s neck following contact on a play for the ball in the midfield.
Even while playing one man down, the advantage seemed to remain with Tampa Bay as it kept the ball in and around the Railhawks’ box for four minutes following.
A successful defensive stand managed to take the heat off Carolina, and the RailHawks worked to put a final push towards the Tampa Bay goal.
Carolina equally maintained ball possession for nearly four minutes as full time neared, but did not threaten enough to score and win the game.
“We had a little bit of the momentum, then all of a sudden, they’re able to string some passes together which forced our line to get a little bit deeper,” Rongen said.
With five minutes in extra time allotted, Thompson finally gave the RailHawks the chance they needed, and curled a low 20-yarder from the middle top of the box towards the goal.
However, Pickens got a hand on it and redirected wide of the right post.
That would be the closest that either team would come to win the game as each walked away with a point following the referee’s final whistle blast.
“They got back into the game, pressured and scored. We survived the rest of the first half in some ways,” Clarke said.
“Second half I thought we got control of the game and the tempo of the game and done very, very well. The keeper ends up coming up with the one big save that kept the game at 1-1.”
CAR: Gilstrap; Knight, Scott (C), Tobin, Wagner; Shipalane; Hlavaty, Albadawi, Osaki, Anderson Thompson 73rd); Novo (Baladez 81st)
TBR: Pickens; Balchan, Mkandawire, Antonijevic, Sweat; Sargosa, Boggs, Nunez (Chavez 85th), Hristov; Santos (Espinal 64th), Hertzog
CAR: Novo (Shipalane) – (6th); TBR: — Nunez (Hristov) – (19th)
CAR: –; TBR: Ben Sweat (25th), Mkandawire (90th)
CAR: –; TBR: Hristov (76th)