by JAKE NUTTING

The Tampa Bay Rowdies are turning their focus to the foundational level of the sport in the region in a major new affiliation with Tampa Bay United, the largest youth soccer organization in the area.

Starting this year TBU will now be known as the TBU Rowdies, with the group’s top-tier teams all suiting up in the professional team’s iconic green and gold jerseys.

“Over the last several years, the Rowdies’ focus has been to create a successful business model for both the first team players on the field and the stadium experience for the fans,” Rowdies COO Lee Cohen said. “We feel as if we are now prepared to focus on the next steps of our soccer evolution in the Tampa Bay Area. Partnering with TBU and making that club part of our family as the TBU Rowdies was, in our minds, the most logical next step.”

TBU Rowdies will continue to focus on the development of young players through the boys’ U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams and the girls’ Elite Clubs National League teams, as well as the various other programs offered by the organization. The club operates Development academy teams at the U-12, U-13 and U-14 age levels and was recently awarded sanctioning for a U-15 team.

“We are honored to be working with such a highly esteemed team,” said Tampa Bay United CEO Charlie Slagle. “The value they bring in terms of expertise and opportunities supports our mission of developing youth talent as a long-term goal. It is not about winning one game, it is about developing what you need each year to continue for the long haul. Last year, we had a record number of TBU players sign on to play at the collegiate level, and this affiliation enhances our ability to be the top level club for youth soccer in the state of Florida.”

As expected, former University of Tampa Head Coach and U.S. U-17 national team Assistant Coach Keith Fulk will serve as the point man of the new partnership between the Rowdies and TBU. Fulk recently stepped down from his coaching position at Saint Leo University to take on the role of Director for TBU’s U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams. Unused Substitutes reported earlier on Monday that Fulk will also coach the Rowdies amateur squad Rowdies U23 in the Premier Development League.

“TBU has a long history of great success on the field in this market,” Cohen said. “The addition of Charlie Slagle to the TBU leadership and the successful model he created at CASL (Capital Area Soccer League, Raleigh, N.C.) made this opportunity extremely attractive. Adding Keith Fulk to the mix solidified this partnership. There are not two better guys that we can be working with to help our club achieve its goals both on and off the field in the youth development landscape.”

The Rowdies view the affiliation with TBU as a strong boost to their bid to join Major League Soccer. They believe that the academy and PDL team strongly demonstrate their investment plant the seeds that will continue to support the growth of the support in the region.

IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES