June 20, 2008

The Tampa Bay Rowdies are back! - Reflections on the past, present and future

On Thursday, the USL announced another expansion franchise, one that many in the United States soccer community will recognize on name alone.

That's right, a new version of the Tampa Bay Rowdies will join the USL First Division in 2010. If all holds to plan, this will put the USL-1 at 12 teams in 2010, as the Seattle Sounders will "move" to MLS next season and the Austin Aztex will join the league in their place.

Note: Still no word on the plight of the California Victory, who are still looking for a local ownership group and could rejoin the league anytime in the near future.

The rebirth of the Rowdies finally puts a top-tier team in the USL's backyard, as the league offices are located in Tampa.

But it also holds some personal meaning for me.

Although I've been an Atlanta native for nearly my entire life, I was actually born in Clearwater, where my parents were living at the time. My father was a sports writer for the Tampa Tribune and used to cover the Rowdies back in the NASL days.

In his basement, among the boxes and boxes of clips, notes and tapes from years in the newspaper business are some great relics from days past.

His stories of covering the Rowdies back in the day are great to hear, especially the one about him playing in an exhibition game at Tampa Stadium before a Rowdies game.

When ECB and I got back on the soccer field, he told us the story about a "Media Game" that took place at the Big Sombrero before a Rowdies game. He said it was the last time he played soccer and he was lost out there with his baseball cleats on the pitch at such a large stadium.

As he explained to us, back in the NASL days, nearly the majority of veterans at newspapers had no interest in covering soccer, so the duty mainly fell to young writers who were looking for any way to get bylines and clips in major-market papers that they could use in the future.

So for a time, this responsibility fell on my Dad, who says he thoroughly enjoyed his time covering the burgeoning league.

What remains to be seen is whether or not this new version of the Rowdies can capture the attention that the previous incarnation did. I find it highly unlikely, as the owners are only shooting for a 7,500-seat stadium, as opposed to the cavernous Tampa Stadium used back in the day.

Plus, with MLS grabbing the big-name superstars, the same frenzy that was seen back in the NASL days probably will never be seen again.

However, with the league offices being so close, I expect a close kinship with league president Francisco Marcos (who also has ties to the old Rowdies) and this could make this franchise one of the more stable in the league (something that is becoming more of a necessity with the recent situations in California and Rochester as examples).

What I'd like to see is an inclusion into the Southern Derby for Tampa Bay, something that will need to be decided upon by fan representatives from Atlanta, Charleston and Carolina.

And a natural rivalry with Miami FC? Well, Miami FC needs some actual fans first.

But even from up here, I'm excited as anyone about this new franchise.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

How did Dad like the world's worst press box at the sombrero?

El Güero said...

Ha ha, never asked him about it.

I'll make sure to next time.

He was there plenty, he covered the Buccaneers during their first few seasons too.

LFCGirl said...

I think they'll do pretty good, already gotten a couple of calls from friends who still live over there excited about the rebirth. I plan to travel over to catch the games and will probably purchase season tix. Its closer than going up to Atlanta or down to Miami.