Tampa Bay is another of the founding members of the new NASL. They’re one of the teams that have adopted their identity from an original (old) NASL team. They’re currently 0-1-0, just like the Eleven. They drew 1-1 last week at home against FC Edmonton, with their single goal coming on an Edmonton own goal.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
The team was announced in 2008 and began play in the 2010 season. Despite announcing that they would play as the Tampa Bay Rowdies, they faced a dispute with rights-holders of the original NASL team’s name. They played as FC Tampa Bay until 2012, when they finally resolved the rights questions and began calling themselves the Rowdies.
2010 (USSF-D2): 7-12-11/6th, USL division; USOC – 2nd round
2011 (NASL): 11-8-9/3rd; playoffs – quarterfinals; no USOC
2012 (NASL): 12-9-7/2nd; Soccer Bowl champions; USOC – 3rd round
2013 (NASL): 5-3-4/4th (Spring); 5-5-4/3rd (Fall); USOC – 4th round
Tampa Bay has been a consistent team, tending towards a middle-of-the-pack record with no major highs or lows in (regular season) league performance. Their 2012 Soccer Bowl championship is obviously the team’s top honor, and follows their best regular season. In 2013, their odd Spring season saw them go 1-2-3 at home but 4-1-1 on the road, but their Fall season was much less remarkable (4-2-1 home, 1-3-3 away). The Rowdies were the scoring leader for the 2013 season (total of 51 goals scored) but were also the second-worst defensive team (43 goals allowed, behind Fort Lauderdale at 44).
So, best at scoring goals, second-worst at preventing them. The Rowdies looked at those stats and decided to add a top-quality attacker in Brian Shriver (signed from Carolina in the offseason). He’ll pair with Georgi Hristov, the Bulgarian who led Tampa Bay in goals and assists last year. They’ll also work with long-time Rowdie Keith Savage, an attacking midfielder who’s appeared in 67 games for Tampa Bay. With that kind of attack, the Rowdies should produce offensive fireworks.
Defensively, Tampa Bay absorbed a big blow when GK Diego Restrepo, one of the standout NASL goalkeepers in 2013, suffered a torn Achilles tendon in February. They’ve filled that gap by purchasing Matt Pickens from the New England Revolution. Pickens spent ten years in MLS, most notably from 2009-2014 with Colorado, where he is still the Rapids’ longest-serving keeper (116 matches in goal). Pickens was named to the NASL Team of the Week last week for his three saves (including a penalty save) in the draw with Edmonton.
The defense will anchor around longtime stalwart Takyua Yamada (97 appearances for Tampa Bay since 2010) and returnee J. P. Rodrigues (50 appearances from 2010-2012). Darel Russell will be a key addition in midfield, arriving from Toronto FC after 16 years in England, where he’ll join Shane Hill (62 appearances since 2011, and son of the head coach). For more, check out this Rowdies team preview at Sunshine Soccer News for full details.
Tampa Bay have been managed by Ricky Hill since 2011. Hill had a 17-year career, almost entirely in England. Like Indy manager Juergen Sommer, Hill played for Luton Town (though his time there didn’t overlap with Sommer’s). He also played for the Rowdies in the original NASL.
Identity and Home Park
The Rowdies’ majority owner is St. Petersburg businessman and philanthropist Bill Edwards, who bought a controlling stake in the team last December. Original owners David Laxer and Andrew Nestor are still involved in team operations. The Rowdies adopted their name from the original NASL franchise, who began play as an expansion team in 1974 and continued to play even after the demise of the NASL, finally folding in 1993. The team colors are green and yellow. They are famous for their hooped green and yellow socks, but the home kit is mainly white. The away jersey is green.
The Rowdies play their home games at Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg, a former minor-league baseball stadium that’s now exclusively used for soccer. First built in 1947, it replaced St. Petersburg Athletic Park which was built on the same site in 1923. The stadium was used for both minor league teams and major league spring training, last hosting the Rays spring training in 2008. It’s since been converted to a soccer-only facility, though its age still causes problems for the team. Plans have been floated to build a new park as part of a St. Petersburg waterfront redevelopment, but nothing has come to fruition so far. The lead supporters’ group is Ralph’s Mob.
Still early, and we’re trying to get a baseline with all the teams. You’d expect Tampa Bay to be a serious test of the Eleven’s defense, though Edmonton did fairly well in the first game. The Indy offense should have an easier time than last week, though. I’m still going to call this a winnable game, with a 3-2 victory in a barn-burner.
Let’s hope I’m right. Come On You Eleven!