by JAKE NUTTING
There are plenty of new faces and names on the roster for Tampa Bay Rowdies supporters to learn as the 2019 USL Championship kicks off, but the club hasn’t wiped the slate entirely clean from last year.
Midfielder Dominic Oduro is one of 8 players on this year’s 24-man roster who represented the Rowdies last season. Oduro, who turned 24 in January, quickly earned admiration among supporters after signing in late June and was high on the list of desired returnees.
While the Rowdies didn’t make his re-signing official until December, it was never really in doubt.
“Neill spoke to me a lot. I knew he wanted to sign me,” Oduro said. “He spoke to me about how he wanted me on his team and how he wanted me to play and how he wanted to build the team. How I needed to get more games. I was happy to sign two years and get more games and see how the future goes.”
Oduro returned to his native Ghana in the first part of the offseason while he waited for his new work visa to come through. Many professional players stay fit by playing against local kids when they return to Ghana in the offseason. It was during one of these matches that Oduro had a chance encounter with the “other Dominic Oduro” — longtime MLS forward and recent signee of the USL Eastern Conference’s Charlotte Independence.
We finally meet. The two Dominic Oduros’ #trainingmood #topplayer #rolemodel #balllovers @domoduro
“The picture was my idea because he was just standing there with his shirt off and I was like, ‘no I’ve got the biggest body, so I’ve got to show it.’ He was laughing. It was fun. So we took the picture together and he had to post it and he had to post it and I had to post it.”
Last June was an eventful month for Oduro. He joined the Rowdies on trial, earned a contract, and closed the month with a stunning match-tying goal that wound up on SportsCenter’s Top 10 in his Rowdies debut. Oduro finished the year with just over 1,500 minutes played in 18 total starts for the Rowdies, higher than any of Collins’ other midseason signings.
“Dom came in as a real highlight of last season. I’d have been real concerned if we hadn’t had Dom for those last 15 or so games, ” Rowdies Coach Neiil Collins said. “I think he was a real important piece of our team and he’s gonna be a real important piece this year. The biggest thing for us is to keep pushing Dom to try and get better and fulfill his potential. That’s the job of the coaching staff and that’s also the job of the job of Dom, to keep pushing himself. It’s good to know the fans have taken to Dom just as we have as a club. We’re delighted to have him. He’s the type of player managers want — young, hungry, talented and eager to learn.”
Oduro was classified as a defensive midfielder last year, and he filled that role well. His injection into the lineup aided in the rehabilitation of the back line, which kept the Rowdies in postseason contention. Winning 75 percent of his tackles made Oduro a great asset, but his 86.7 percent pass completion rate was equally beneficial and also the third best on the squad. Returning defender Tarek Morad and Oduro are the only players who attempted 700 or more passes and still maintained a completion rate above 80 percent.
Heading into his second season in Tampa Bay, Oduro pointed to a player at Manchester City — a club he spent several years with as a teenager — when looking for an example of how he wants to evolve his game.
“Neill wants to push me more this year. Last year my position was more about defending. But I think this year I will be able to go forward more to take more shots,” he said. “Defensive midfielder, I know everyone would think your only job is to defend. But looking at top players, looking at Fernandinho for Manchester City, I mean he takes shots. He goes up more. How we want to play more this year, it’s like pressing. That will allow me to press more forward, to take more shots, also get more goals in. This year is not only about defending but also develop myself as a player, connecting passes with my teammates. That’s my purpose for this year.”
Surrounding Oduro this year is a number of players who fit a similar mold to the one he did when came to Tampa Bay. Keeper Chris Konopka is the only player over 30 on the roster, which has been filled with plenty of players eager to make a splash the way Oduro did last year.
“This year there’s a lot of young, hungry guys. Being hungry is also part of the game, part of the passion. We always wanna develop ourselves as a player, not only just showing fans on the field. I mean showing the fans or playing on the field, you can do this, you can do that, but you also have to think about your future. Putting in the hard work and the passion, that will help the team and also yourself. This year we have a lot of young, hungry guys that are willing to push more.”
Photo via Tampa Bay Rowdies