The Rowdies are Tampa Bay’s professional soccer team; known for thrilling, quality matches and boundlessly energetic fans. It is a great way to get out there and experience Tampa Bay sports. In this post, we’ll explore team history and what you need to know to catch a game.
The Rowdies play in the North American Soccer League (NASL), the second tier of professional American soccer, the first tier being Major League Soccer (MLS) where teams such as the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls play. The third tier is USL Pro, for those of you who were wondering.
The Rowdies club was found in 2008, reviving the name of Tampa’s defunct 1975-1993 soccer club. The reborn Rowdies first played in 2010, winning 1-0 over Crystal Palace Baltimore. The 2010 season ended with a 7-12-11 record, not impressive, but expected for an expansion team. The 2011 season marked an improvement, ending with an 11-8-9 record, good enough for third in the league and a berth in the NASL playoffs. They notably defeated the Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League in a friendly.
Twenty-twelve was the season for the Rowdies. First, the club could officially use the Rowdies name. For the first two seasons there was a licensing dispute over the Rowdies name, so the club played as FC Tampa Bay. But in 2012, the club finally reached an agreement that allowed them to use the Rowdies names and logos. Next, the team finished second in the league and won the NASL championship, winning the Soccer Bowl in a thrilling penalty kick shoot-out over the Minnesota Stars FC. The 2013 season had several highlights, such as a win over MLS’s Seattle Sounders in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, but they failed to qualify for the NASL playoffs.
The home field, I mean—pitch
The Rowdies played their first season at George M. Steinbrenner Field, spring training facility to the New York Yankee’s and home field of minor league baseball’s Tampa Yankees. The arrangement did not work out too well, as the pitch had to be lined in the outfield and was smaller than a traditional soccer field. There were constant scheduling issues during the summer when the Tampa Yankees played multiple home games every week and did not want their outfield torn up by soccer cleats.
In 2011, the Rowdies moved to Al Lang Stadium, also a baseball stadium, but this time there were no other tenants. The playing field was renovated for soccer, fans sitting in the baseball grandstands with one corner of the field near home plate. With Ralph’s Mob, the independent, very loud and energetic fan group, taking the seats along where the first base line would be.
There is talk of creating a soccer-specific stadium somewhere in the Tampa Bay area, but those dreams have not yet come to fruition. Specifically, the owners want an 18,000 seat stadium which would allow the Rowdies to become a first tier MLB soccer club.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers – Tampa Bay Rowdy rivalry, AKA the Florida Derby
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers – Tampa Bay Rowdy rivalry is peculiar. It is peculiar in that it spans over different leagues, teams, and decades. It is still current; the series winner now brings home the Costal Cup.
Its roots began in 1975, in the old North American Soccer League (NASL), when the Rowdies played against the Miami Toros. Only four minutes into the match an on field brawl ensued and two players were ejected. They did not get along too well from there, with constant accusations of dishonorable play every time they faced off. Later, the Rowdies beat the Toros in the NASL playoffs, going on to win the Soccer Cup.
The Miami Toros eventually moved to Fort Lauderdale and rebranded themselves as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Over the next decade, these teams met repeatedly for fierce soccer and the meetings became known as the “Florida Derby.” Fans jeered each other, media fanned the flames, and the teams played relentlessly on the pitch.
In 1984, the Strikers moved to Minnesota, seemingly ending the Florida Derby. But that would not be the case. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers were reborn and began facing off against the Rowdies in the American Soccer League, and then in the American Professional Soccer League. In 1993, the Rowdies folded. The Strikers folded a year later.
Their spirits lived on, however. In 1998, the Florida Derby continued in the MLS when the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny began to square off against each other, and despite the “Miami” name, the Fusion actually played out of Fort Lauderdale. The rivalry lasted a few more years until both teams folded.
Then, in 2010, the current incarnation of the Florida Derby rose again. The Tampa Bay Rowdies reformed, continuing the Florida Derby saga against Miami FC, who in 2012, changed their name to—you guessed it—the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Seeing a game
The Rowdies are currently in the middle of the NASL season and this would be a good time to see them, because it is easy to put it off until it’s too late and you have to wait until next season, or the season after that.
It’s $18 for general admission. $5 for parking. Al Lang Stadium is located in downtown St. Petersburg. Its address is: 230 1st St SE, St Petersburg, FL 33701.
Seeing the Rowdies is a uniquely Tampa Bay experience, and a good option for any sports enthusiast.