The Tampa Bay Rowdies had a very eventful offseason, following their 2013 season. The Rowdies introduced a new owner, GM and star striker during the winter and are heading into the 2014 season with high hopes. The Rowdies are two-ish years removed from their NASL title and the club had an entertaining 2013 season. The club ishoping their scoring momentum continues into the upcoming campaign.
Last season, the Rowdies finished second in the overall standings on 38 points and the club scored 10 more goals than the next best team. Despite this level of consistency, the Rowdies were undone by the season format; finishing fourth in the Spring Season and third in the Fall Season, meaning no Soccer Bowl place. Tampa Bay was one of the best teams on the eye last year and was always set up to score goals. Because of this set up, they allowed their fair share as well. The Rowdies allowed 43 goals in 2013, which was only one fewer than the Fort Lauderdale Strikers who led the league in that category. On paper, the “do whatever you can to outscore your opponent” strategy obviously works, but Tampa should not be grossly confident with their defense after last season.
In the offseason, it was announced that local businessman, Bill Edwards, had become the new owner of the club and he immediately injected some cash into the offseason budget. Former Rowdies player, Perry Van Der Beck was named as the club general manager not long after, and the club also announced a massive partnership with Seminole Hard Rock. Last, but not at all the least, the club brought in a range new of new players highlighted by the 2013 Golden Boot winner, Brian Shriver. Shriver joined the Rowdies (which are close to his hometown of Clearwater) from the Carolina RailHawks where he finished with 15 goals in 2013.
I think it is safe to say that the Rowdies will score goals in 2014. They have seven forwards listed on their roster and many of them have proven they can score in this league already. The question will be, will their entertaining goal-infested style of play turn into more wins than draws/losses? Again, on paper, gunning to score as many goals as possible is a pretty smart way to get wins, but if their defense continues to be as leaky as it was in 2013, that goals allowed tally may come back to haunt them.
Brian Shriver – As mentioned earlier, Shriver led the NASL in goals in 2013 and took home the Golden Boot. Up front, he will partner last year’s NASL MVP, Georgi Hristov in the most dynamic striking duo in the league.These guys will be a nightmare for defenses, and Shriver’s ability to make some of the best attacking runs in NASL soccer will be a big plus.
Matt Pickens – Pickens only recently joined the Rowdies after spending the majority of his career in MLS. After Diego Restrepo suffered an Achilles injury in preseason, the Rowdies needed to move to find their goalkeeper for the upcoming season. They hit the nail on the head by adding Pickens. The 6-3, 32-year old has made over 150 MLS appearances and was the long time number one with the Colorado Rapids. Everyone knows age is of not muchconcern when it comes to keepers, so grabbing Pickens atonly 32 is a steal by the Rowdies.
Blake Wagner – Wagner heads to his hometown of Tampa to join the Rowdies after spending the previous two seasons with the San Antonio Scorpions. Wagner is an attack-minded left back who had two very good seasons in Texas. The MLS veteran scored two goals in 2013, which surprisingly was tied for third on the Scorpions. He will bring a committed defender with an eye for going forward to the Rowdies.
Luke Mulholland – Mulholland may be the biggest loss any team had in the NASL this year. The dynamic midfielder joined Real Salt Lake in MLS and has impressed so far in Utah. Mulholland was an NASL Best XI player that was always near the top of the charts in scoring and assists. Tampa will need to do well to replace his engine.
Etienne Barbara – Barbara didn’t make much of an impression in Tampa in 2013 after he was traded from Minnesota for Mike Ambersley. He had a couple of good moments for the club, and when he is on his game, he is a good attacking player in this league. Barbara is currently not listed on the Rowdies roster.
Restrepo could be added to this list because of hisinjury and the hole it left at goalkeeper, but as mentioned above, the Rowdies have already addressed that with Pickens.
Potential Wild Card Player
Lucky Mkosana – Lucky scored a couple of goals for the Rowdies in 2013, but showed a ton of pace and promise on the attacking front. He is one of many strikers the Rowdies can deploy, but look for him to have a breakout year playing with Shriver and Hristov up front.
If you couldn’t already guess, the Rowdies’ biggest strength is absolutely their attack. With seven capable strikers on their roster (two of them being two of the best players in the league) the Rowdies will set up to break down even the meanest of defenses. Their midfield has an attacking flair to it as well with Evans Frimpong and Anthony Wallace loving to get forward. Wagner is an example of a Rowdies defender who also has a knack for attacking. The Rowdies should not be short of goals in 2014.
Most Glaring Weakness
Their defense. The Rowdies improved their roster from 2013, but didn’t make a true impact signing on the defensive side of the ball (not counting Pickens). Wagner, Jay Needham, Frankie Sanfilipo and Jordan Gafa are all solid players, but when compared to the rest of their roster, the defense remains the weak spot. They gave up too many goals in 2013, so they will need to see improvement in that respect to earn a postseason spot this season.
The Rowdies have an attack that is good enough to win the Soccer Bowl trophy in 2014. Their playing style under Ricky Hill has developed into a very entertaining andexciting one. With their added resources and another year developing in Hill’s attack minded, butdisciplined formation , the Rowdies should take another step towardsglory this year.
Tampa claimed the 2012 Soccer Bowl trophy; so winning is nothing new to them. A few players on their current rosterremain from that championship team, and they will no doubt be urging the newer players to form a consistent sidethroughout the Spring and Fall Seasons. Their defense is a concern, but their attack is so good that it is hard to rule them out of anything this year.
I see the Rowdies earning one of the fourth postseason spots. By my count (I’m bad at math) that’s the Rowdies, Scorpions, Cosmos and Minnesota United that I’ve tabbed as my postseason teams. Carolina and others will obviously still compete but these four squads stand out to me. If Tampa can continue their exciting play in 2014, they will be extremely fun to watch, and not to mention, it will go a long way in earning them a berth in the Championship tournament.