by JAKE NUTTING
Last year at this time Frankie Sanfilippo was confronting the sobering reality of saying goodbye to the club and supporters he had proudly represented since 2011. The newly installed head coach Thomas Rongen didn’t see a place for the defender who is one of only two players to reach 100 appearances (many of those while wearing the captain’s armband) for the modern era Rowdies.
“After last year I didn’t expect anything,” Sanfilippo says when asked if ever imagined he’d suit up for the Rowdies again after the bitter exit. “It was a hard time for me, getting out of the Rowdies uniform and not playing for the Rowdies. I thought I was going to end my career here.”
It turns out Sanfilippo wouldn’t have to wait a full year before securing a return to the Rowdies. Rongen lost his position midway through the season and his replacement, Stuart Campbell, is a former teammate of Sanfilippo who knows the value the veteran can bring to a roster firsthand. Campbell wasted no time, signing Sanfilippo to the squad only a few weeks into the offseason.
“[Stu] called me and said — hey you’ve had a great season. I want to bring you back here. I want you to help out with this team, help out with the younger guys and do what you always do best,” recalls Sanfilippo. “He knows what I bring to the table when I put the Rowdies jersey on and fight to do whatever I can to get a victory.”
Personal connections and history aside, any coach putting together a roster for the new NASL season would likely be happy to bring in a player with the output Sanfilippo had during his one year absence from Tampa Bay.
The defender was a stalwart on the back line of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, starting all 31 competitive matches for the Rowdies’ rivals in 2015. With Sanfilippo in the lineup, primarily as a center back, the Strikers bested the Rowdies in the Florida Derby and usurped them for the final playoff spot on the last day of the regular season.
“I knew Frankie from when I was a player, from when I was an assistant coach, and then last year when he was a member of the imposing team. He’s just a good player,” says Campbell. “He’s a good character. He leads by example and that’s the type of player that I want. You can also tell by the number of minutes he played last year that he’s extremely fit. It was a culmination of things, but most importantly he’s still a very good player.”
According to Sanfilippo, the massive disappointment of being let go by the Rowdies definitely fueled, at least in part, his stellar outing in 2015.
“Last year I thought I had a pretty good year. I played every minute of every game except maybe four minutes of a game, and I just wanted to prove to everybody that I can still play,” says the 34-year-old defender. “It doesn’t matter if I play right back or center back, I can still play this game and in this league. So last year was definitely motivation to show everybody what I can still do.”
Sanfilippo certainly showed that he has plenty left to give on the field in his lone season with the Strikers. Now he’s looking forward to doing the same in 2016, this time while wearing the green and gold.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to come back here and throw on a Rowdies jersey. I’m just really excited for that opportunity.”
IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES