Kicking off the Walt Disney World Pro Classic; We take a look at the reigning North American Soccer League Champions Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Reigning over one league, proving themselves in another.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies come into the match against D.C. United as reigning NASL champions. Tampa Bay faced Minnesota Stars FC, former team of D.C. United trialist goalkeeper Matt VanOekel in the NASL Soccer Bowl Championship. The Rowdies erased a two-goal lead from the first leg, tying the aggregate score. VanOekel and the Stars lost in a penalty shootout, giving the NASL Soccer Bowl a new home in Tampa Bay.
Hello, Old Friend
While VanOekel seeks payback for a championship lost, another United trialist fosters his own motivating memories. Previously with FC Edmonton of the NASL, Kyle Porter knows the Rowdies well. Tampa Bay proved victorious each of the four times the Rowdies faced FC Edmonton in the 2012 season.
United midfielder Lewis Neal has also found himself opposite a current Rowdie. While playing in England’s League Two, Neal and his club Shrewsbury Town FC tied Bristol Rovers FC, Rowdies midfielder Stuart Campbell’s former team, 1-1.
Although some are facing familiar foes, others are battling old friends. Black-and-Red veteran defender Robbie Russell and Tampa Bay midfielder Rafael Cox won an MLS Cup together with Real Salt Lake in 2009.
Losing a threat
Tampa Bay lost their leading scorer in Dan Antoniuk, who left the NASL after the 2012 season. However, the Rowdies still have an attacking threat in forward Mike Ambersley, who led the Rowdies in points (25) last year, notching eight goals and nine assists. Tampa Bay has also retained 38-year defender Takuya Yamada, an NASL 2012 Best XI selection and the League's ironman, with 2,520 minutes played in regular-season matches last year.