Roughly 3 weeks after the announcement of the Rowdies2 squad, competing in the NPSL’s upcoming season, and there’s still more questions than answers – players, coaches, stadium, etc…but some answers are starting to come into focus.
In a recent team-published interview, Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell expressed his excitement about the developmental squad and said that they will train with the senior team on occasion, and in an interview with this site, Rowdies COO Lee Cohen reaffirmed that the primary purpose of the team will be to develop players for the senior team & that they plan to follow the model of the Cosmos’ NPSL entry, Cosmos B, in terms of operating as a professional team.
One other topic that Cohen touched on was where Rowdies2 will play their home games, stating that playing at Al Lang was not a foregone conclusion, and a decision would be made after the release of the 2016 NASL schedule, when they would have a better idea when Al Lang would be available. This would seem to indicate that Al Lang is the preference, but that they are open to other options, specifically mentioning possible locations in Tampa, St Pete, or Bradenton. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some possible options in each of those locations.
- Corbett Soccer Stadium at the University of South Florida – Opened in 2011, this would seem to be the ideal choice if a Tampa location is preferred. The stadium is named after former Rowdies owner Cornelia Corbett and has a permanent display of Rowdies history on site. Historical ties aside, the stadium has a grandstand with nearly 1,000 seats and space on the berms behind each goal and one sideline for another 2,000 fans in addition to convenient parking, concession stands, a video board and broadcasting equipment if the team were to stream games online. It is also located close to both I-75 and I-275. Being able to work around the school’s soccer schedule would be the biggest obstacle, but USF/Rowdies2 double-headers could be a possible solution.
- Pepin Stadium at the University of Tampa – Home to the Spartans soccer team, this stadium has a larger and partially-covered grandstand, seating 1,500. A nearby parking garage, concessions, and broadcast equipment are also present. Located closer to downtown Tampa, this site may be more appealing to the typical soccer demographic than USF to the north. The stadium, like the rest of the school, is close to both I-275 and SR60/Kennedy Blvd. Scheduling concerns with the school’s team would also factor in here.
- Naimoli Family Athletic & Intramural Complex at the University of Tampa – a multipurpose field also located on-campus at UT, the stadium can accommodate nearly 2,000 fans, with nearby parking and space for tailgating. Also home to the 4th division Tampa Marauders FC, scheduling and availability issues would need to be addressed.
Pinellas County/St. Petersburg
- Al Lang Stadium – Florida’s only downtown, waterfront soccer stadium would seem to be the easiest choice because of the flexibility of it’s availability, and the Edwards’ group goal of keeping the stadium in-use as much as possible. Plenty of parking and stadium amenities are available, and proximity to the Rowdies/USFSP training field (which I assume they’re going to use) is a plus as well.
- Turley Athletic Complex at Eckerd College – I don’t have a specific number of available seats, but the soccer field does have a permanent, if small grandstand, is close to I-275, and parking nearby, but it remains to be seen if that is general parking or student-only. The Tritons home field is probably not a likely choice, but I wanted to include it as a possibility.
- Walter Fuller Soccer Complex – home to several local youth clubs, Fuller does offer 2 lighted fields with covered bleachers. It’s not exactly the most convenient location from 275 and concessions would likely be non-existent, but this is a facility the Rowdies have used for training and preseason in the past, so I’m listing it as possibility, however highly unlikely as it is.
(This probably seems like a weird choice to many Rowdies fans, but the Manatee County area actually has many connections to the greater soccer world, at the club and country level, and is actively seeking to strengthen and increase them. I’ll admit to being biased towards these choices primarily because they are close to home for me, but there are also some great training and playing facilities coming into shape here!)
- Premier Sports Campus Soccer Stadium – Currently under construction, this facility should be open sometime in April/May 2016. The PSC is home to youth soccer, football, and lacrosse and also hosts the annual Nike International Friendlies, featuring the USMNT youth teams. The USWNT youth has trained here previously, MLS’ Columbus Crew will be training here at the end of February, and the new stadium will feature parking, concessions, and approximately 3,000 seats. A scheduling concern could be Major League Football, a start-up American Football league looking to play in the spring-time starting this year. The location is convenient to I-75 and has hosted Rowdies preseason games in the past.
- IMG Academy Stadium – the 5,000 seat stadium is home to IMG’s football, lacrosse, and soccer programs, and has hosted MLS preseason/international friendlies for several years. Considered one of the top training facilities in the country, the Rowdies new strength-and-conditioning coach has ties to the academy as well. The Rowdies have made this their preferred preseason spot in Manatee County for the last two years and could be a possible home for Rowdies2.
Long story short, there is no shortage of possible fan-friendly playing location for Rowdies2 in the Tampa Bay area, and while the primary purpose of the team is to develop the players, this could also be a great chance for the club to make some new connections around the area – with great options in all three counties, who’s to say that they make only one location their home? I could easily see a scenario where they play games at 3 different locations, and (hopefully) playoff games at Al Lang…