TAMPA – Steinbrenner Field will be the first home of the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies when they play their inaugural season in the United States Soccer Federation Second Division, with a home opener planned for early May.
Standing inside the club’s new home Rowdies Owner and President Andrew Nestor said he was excited everything was starting to come together for the franchise.
“It’s very exciting,” Nestor said. “It’s been a long year-and-a-half, restructuring, relaunching a league, building an entire organization from scratch, putting together not just and organization but a winning team that we feel will compete for a championship in our first year. To be able to announce that we’re going to play in such a great venue and really start to look forward is very exciting.”
While the Rowdies were effusive in their praise of their new home, they will still be looking to build a soccer-specific stadium which will become their permanent home. Plans for that are still in progress, though, with Nestor not willing to say where the stadium might be built.
As for the upcoming season, the league’s schedule is expected to be announced early next week according to the USSF, with the opening weekend currently schedule for April 10. When the team does get to host its home opener, the playing surface will be stripped across the outfield and over a portion of the infield around first base. While that will mean part of the surface will be infield dirt, Rowdies head coach Paul Dalglish wasn’t concerned about that detail.
“No concern whatsoever,” Dalglish said. “I think it’s a small price to pay for the standard of the grass that we’ve got. As you can see, it’s absolutely immaculate. There’s no team going to play on better grass this year and that’s for sure, and if there’s a little bit of dirt in the corner, it’s a small price to pay.”
Also introduced were three of the players who will be part of the Rowdies return, University of Tampa All-American Pascal Milien, former Jesuit graduate Joe Donoho and Yendry Diaz, who was one of the Cuban players who defected when the North American Olympic qualifying tournament was held in Tampa two years ago.
Others that have been signed include Kwame Adjeman-Pamboe, a former first round pick of MLS’s Colorado Rapids, and Dwight Barnett, who impressed at the Rowdies third combine in Tampa earlier this month. Dalglish echoed Nestor’s sentiment that the team would be shooting high in its first season.
“As Andrew said, we’re a new organization, but we want to be competitive from the very first day,” Dalglish said. “We’re coming out this year to win the championship. That’s out goal, we’re going to compete and win the championship. Is it a tough ask? Of course it is, but you’ve got to aim high, and that’s what we aim to do. We’ve got the players to do it, we’ve got the organization to do it, we’ve got the facility to do it, we just need a little bit of luck along the way, and we should be able to do it.”
Still to be announced is the location of the training facility, and a few more signings and the announcement of preseason games. With training camp opening on March 1, Nestor said he expects there to be five or six preseason games, with the opener likely at Pepin Stadium against the University of Tampa.
Currently the side has 13 players under contract, with Nestor saying another two deals were close to completion. Dalglish said he expected the side would carry a roster of 21 players.
As for what he would feel when the Rowdies run out onto Steinbrenner field for the first time, Nestor said it would likely be an emotional moment for him and the rest of the Rowdies owners and staff.
“I’d imagine it would be pretty emotional,” Nestor said. “It’s been a lot of hard work from a lot of dedicated people to make it happen.”