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Austin Aztex head coach Adrian Heath saw this result coming.
Heath predicted Wednesday's rematch with Tampa Bay would be Austin's "most difficult test of the season" after seeing the Rowdies earn a 2-2 tie against his side two weeks earlier with a goal just minutes before the final whistle.
Tampa Bay (2-1-3, 9 points) followed that same script Wednesday, using a goal in the match's closing moments to clinch a 3-3 draw against Austin (4-1-2, 14 points) at House Park. The Rowdies' Gordon Kljestan bent in a free kick in the 88th minute from 25 yards out to clinch the tie.
"It's no different than what I thought," Heath said. "They've got a lot of energy. At times we've struggled to cope with their size."
Austin controlled possession for much of the first half, eventually breaking through with a free kick just outside the box in the 28th minute. Leonard Griffin's kick found a streaking Yohance Marshall in the box with just enough space to net home a header for the game's opening goal.
Tampa would answer back less than 10 minutes later when a botched clear by Griffin bounced to the Rowdies' Aaron Wheeler, who headed in the goal just before colliding with Austin keeper Miguel Gallardo.
As the half entered stoppage time, Tampa defender Graham Tatters sent in an errant back pass to keeper Daryl Sattler. His ensuing clear was intercepted by a pressuring Eddie Johnson, who capitalized on the Tampa Bay error with a goal to put Austin back on top.
But once again, Tampa responded quickly when a Tatters corner kick found Joe Donoho for the equalizer just before stoppage time expired, sending the game into halftime 2-2 and once again catching the Aztex off-guard after a goal.
"We restarted slowly after the second goal," Heath said.
Johnson put the Aztex back in the lead in the 53rd minute after Lawerence Olum redirected a Lance Watson corner kick to give Johnson a tough angle on goal. The forward slipped in a header in for his second goal of the game and fifth of the season.
But Tampa had the last say with Kljestan's late free kick, mimicking the result two weeks ago when the Rowdies scored off a penalty kick in the 85th minute to seal a 2-2 tie.
Wednesday's attendance of 6,051 fans set an all-time high for the second-year Aztex, although a significant portion of those in attendance entered for free.
As part of a soccer in schools program, the franchise gave away free tickets to every Austin school district middle school and high school within a three-mile radius of House Park.
"We need to see them here on a regular basis," Heath said of the crowd. "This was good football."
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