March 19, 2015 By Jake Nutting
Most fans of the modern Tampa Bay Rowdies are fully aware of the ways the club has benefitted from having the University of South Florida in its backyard. USF graduate Jeff Attinella had two stellar seasons as goalkeeper for the Rowdies, topped off by a Soccer Bowl victory in 2012. When Attinella left for Real Salt Lake in MLS he was replaced by Diego Restrepo, another former USF keeper. Restrepo had a terrific 2014 that included being named NASL Player of the Week 3 times and put on the NASL Team of the Week 7 times. And of course the Rowdies this offseason have brought in two of USF’s best over the past decade in left back Ben Sweat and forward Zak Boggs. But the relationship between the Rowdies and the USF Men’s Soccer program reaches back to the old days of the NASL and even extended past that league’s expiration date.
Around one dozen players to come out of USF were either drafted by (yes the old NASL had a draft) or came to the Rowdies through other avenues. In 1977 defender Kevin Egan was the first USF Bull to be drafted by the Rowdies. South African forward Roy Wegerle holds the distinction of being the last Bull drafted by the Rowdies. He had a standout debut season in 1984, winning Rookie of the Year honors with 9 goals and 17 assists in 21 appearances. Unfortunately that was the original NASL’s final season so Wegerle left Tampa Bay for England where he had a lengthy career before ultimately finishing things out with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1998.
The Rowdies survived the fall of the NASL and many products of USF continued to naturally flow over to club. The Rowdies held on for 8 years after the NASL folded before disbanding themselves in 1993. Nearly half a dozen Bulls wore the green and gold during this period in which the Rowdies started out in the American Indoor Soccer association and then moved to the American Soccer League (which eventually became the American Professional Soccer League). The Rowdies even called USF’s soccer stadium home for two of their final seasons of existence in 1991 and 1992. Today USF has a new soccer venue called Corbett Stadium. It was named after Dick and Cornelia Corbett who made a generous donation towards the project. Cornelia Corbett also was the sole owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies after 1986.
The first match hosted in Corbett Stadium in August of 2011 was the annual preseason competition between USF and the University of Tampa. The competition started out as the Mayor’s Cup back in 1972 but has since been dubbed the Rowdies Cup. The winner earns the right to hoist the original Soccer Bowl trophy that the Rowdies won in 1975.
Since taking over in 2002 USF Head Coach George Kiefer has built a consistently top performing program in the country, and one that soccer fans in Tampa Bay could take pride in during the absence of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tampa Bay Mutiny. Under Kiefer the Bulls have qualified for the NCAA tournament 8 out of the last 10 years, reaching the Elite Eight twice and Sweet Sixteen once.
Without a true academy to speak of the Rowdies end up benefiting greatly from having a top-class program like USF in the market. With USF’s success comes a higher level of recruits from both Florida and abroad. Rowdies Head Coach Thomas Rongen has said that he wants to bring as many quality guys with ties to the Tampa Bay Area as possible. He seems to have achieved that so far. That task is made much easier because of programs like USF. It’s something that the Carolina Railhawks have been exploiting for years while operating on limited resources. Let the college program or development academy bring young guys into your market and then utilize the connection the players make to your area to sign them at some point down the road.
The Rowdies-USF relationship isn’t showing signs of fading anytime soon. On top of bringing in Ben Sweat and Zak Boggs the club recently partnered with USF St Pete to upgrade previous recreation space for students in downtown St Pete into a professional quality practice field. The Rowdies and USF St Pete shared the upgrade costs. Students will still be free to use the renovated field for intramural activities and the Rowdies get a first-class training facility. A win-win for all involved.
Former players from both teams will be holding a clinic for kids ages 6-13 prior to Thomas Rongen and George Kiefer’s squads facing off on Saturday at Corbett Stadium. The clinic is scheduled to take place from 5:30-6:30 p.m. The match will kick off a at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets for the clinic and match can be purchased here http://goo.gl/TCwKeS
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