March 9, 2018 By Jake Nutting
With a week left to go in the preseason and the Tampa Bay Rowdies roster locked in (probably, you never know with this team), now seems as good a time as any to have the Unused Substitute staff sound off on our favorite moves or signings the team has made ahead of their second season in the United Soccer League.
Some names pop up more than once, but there are plenty to choose from. So, let us know if you agree or disagree with our picks, but also be sure to say who you’d rank at the top of the list of off-season moves.
Matt Cox (@UnSub_Matt)
Having had a chance to watch a lot of the new guys play, there’s lots to be impressed and excited about in this upcoming season, but my favorite move is maintaining some continuity by bringing back more than half of last year’s players and Stu Campbell as well. I have no doubt that the players respect Stu on and off the pitch, and he seems to have really grown into the job since it was tossed to him after the Thomas Rongen firing. There were some whispers and rumors about whether he would return for this season after last year’s playoff exit, but he’s back and I think he’s the right guy for the job. Detractors will point to his overall record as the boss, but the club’s performance last year wasn’t despite him. He’s earned this. Time to go get that Cup!
Dan Endonino (@UnSub_Dan)
With the departure of Martin Paterson, I was uncertain how the forward situation would play out. However, the addition of Jochen Graf has reassured me the club won’t be losing goals or work rate. In just a few weeks, he’s already shown that his commitment on and off the pitch to this club and the culture that surrounds it is a massive addition.
Spencer Christian (UnSub_Spencer)
There are a lot of familiar faces but quite a few new to the 2018 squad for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. However, there is one that I am quite excited for. It was a tough choice between Jack Blake and Cody Mizell, but one of them fills a dire need in the starting XI I can’t pass up.
Mizell is my signing of 2018 for the Rowdies. I believe he will secure the starting goalkeeper spot on the squad and play a big role in this season’s campaign. With the departure of our beloved Matt Pickens to Nashville, that left the number one goalkeeper position wide open. Akira Fitzgerald has been solid in his appearances, but I feel Mizell is an upgrade in that position. Playing for the Charlotte Independence last season Mizell, was nominated for USL Goalkeeper of the Year Award. He finished sixth in the USL with 88 saves in 2017 along with five clean sheets. He is a familiar face too as he already had a stint with the Rowdies in 2014.
I’m predicting Cody Mizell wins the USL Goalkeeper of the Year Award in 2018.
Patrick Patterson (Unsub_PhotoPat)
Our intrepid photographer isn’t quite as up to date on this year’s off-season addition yet. He did, however, chime in with which new face to the roster he thinks will end up being the most photogenic and fun to capture this season.
Jeff Hernden (@jeff_hernden)
When it comes down to choosing who is my favorite new signing of the season – it’s a tough decision. Overall, I am incredibly pleased to see the squad get younger, but what is most impressive is that these young players are so experienced. The depth and experience of this squad has me more excited for an upcoming season than I even was last year. That said, two players stick out to me the most are Jochen Graf and Jack Blake.
Graf is an excellent replacement for Pato, but younger, at least as hard-working, and from the bit I’ve seen so far, an awesome personality and an all-around goal scorer. Blake is enthusiastic, hardworking, young, and talented. Playing in the midfield with greats like Joe Cole and Marcel Schäfer, he will certainly grow this season and could be an excellent long-term prospect. While Graf and Blake’s talent and on-the-field product are both massive additions to the Rowdies, what has impressed me the most is the way they have molded in with the team and have showed such great enthusiasm for the club both on and off the pitch. Graf’s twitter banter with the squad is solid, and he’s a fan of the Pod. Blake’s YouTube channel is excellent. Stay on this path and these two could not only become fan favorites, but in the long-run, club greats.
Jake Nutting (@jakenutting)
As the editor around here, I had the benefit of looking over the rest of the staff’s picks before finalizing my own. Jack Blake was the newbie that first popped to mind. I had many chances to see Blake’s breakout season with Jacksonville last year up close while covering the New York Cosmos last year (Seriously, the Cosmos played Jacksonville five times last year. Things got weird in the NASL). To me, Blake’s got the total package to be a standout in this league and could be playing in MLS if given the chance.
Since others have already noted Blake, though, I’d like to give some shine to the two guys who will be competing for the starting right back position — Kyle Curinga and David Najem. Both players have noteworthy accomplishments in the USL. Curinga was a regular with last year’s regular season champions in Salt Lake City, while Najem has impressed as a member of the New York Red Bulls II squad that claimed the 2016 USL and knocked the Rowdies out of the postseason last year. What excites me most about these two slotting in at right back is the technical ability and vision they offer as former midfielders. Their game is about more than speed. These two give me hope that the Rowdies could avoid becoming too predictable, with everything flowing through Marcel Schäfer down the left side.
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