Atlanta Silverbacks' Borfor Carr (19), a Central grad, fights off Tampa Bay Rowdies' Evans Frimpong (20) in an NASL soccer game Saturday at Atlanta Silverbacks Park in Atlanta.
ATLANTA -- Whether the calls by referee Fotis Bazakos were good -- the home crowd naturally did not agree -- Georgi Hristov and Mike Ambersley buried second-half penalty kicks to give the Rowdies an insurmountable lead in a 2-1 win over the Silverbacks on Saturday.
The loss combined with Carolina's late comeback against Minnesota again dropped the Silverbacks from first place.
They now sit two points behind Carolina and two up of Tampa Bay with just road games against Carolina and Minnesota in the NASL spring season, meaning they'll need road points to host the Soccer Bowl.
The first call in the 49th minute drew only mild argument when Beto Navarro was whistled for a takedown in the box. Hristov put his kick to the left of goalkeeper Joe Nasco for the 1-0 lead in the 50th minute.
Ten minutes after the first call, a delayed yellow card to Richie Menjivar almost hid the penalty call from the record crowd of 5,711. But when Bazakos pointed to the spot after the ball hit defender Martyn Lancaster on the arm in the box, the crowd erupted with boos.
Ambersley stepped to the spot and also put his shot to Nasco's left, putting Tampa Bay (4-4-3, 15 points) up 2-0.
"When you spot someone two goals, whether it be a bad call from the referee or not, to come back from that is something we weren't doing before," Atlanta Coach Brian Haynes said. "To give two gifts to them, two penalty kicks, and then try to come back from that is very difficult."
Atlanta (5-3-2, 17 points) did come back almost instantly. After a foul on the Rowdies just outside the box, Pablo Cruz struck a beautiful free kick from 20 yards over the wall and into the upper left corner of the Tampa Bay goal to bring Atlanta to within 2-1.
"Milton Blanco was going to take it, and I was asking for it the whole time," Cruz said. "Last minute he said, 'Go for it.' So I took the opportunity and put it in the back of the net."
Atlanta looked at numerous times that it would equalize. Cruz had a shot deflected wide in the 64th minute, and Willie Hunt put a header straight at the keeper in the 78th minute. Brad Stisser came on as a sub and knocked a couple of shots on goal, but the Rowdies' Diego Restrepo kept them all out. After what seemed like a quarter hour of stoppage time after an initial five minutes, an injury, a red card on Tampa Bay's Carl Cort and a little shoving, the final whistle blew to end the game.
"We knew it was going to be like this," Central grad Borfor Carr said. "We can say the referee gave bad calls.
"But in the end, we fell asleep for a few seconds and we paid for it, you know. If you're on top of the league, you've gotta stay sharp for 90 minutes."