Tampa Bay Rowdies
New Rowdies visit old foe tonight
TAMPA - It's not like the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies needed any extra motivation after last Saturday's disappointing 1-0 loss to NSC Minnesota, but the renewal of the Florida Derby between the club and a south Florida rival on Saturday night will have some harkening back to the glory days of the North American Soccer League. Nowadays it's Miami FC that resides in Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium, but back in the NASL's heyday it was the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Rowdies that provided the league with one of its biggest rivalries. Outside of the Rowdies' 1975 championship, the shootout victory in the 1978 American Conference Finals against the Strikers that saw Rodney Marsh score the game-winning goal at Tampa Stadium may be the most memorable game in the club's history. While there won't be 37,000 fans in the stands on Saturday night, the current Rowdies players are excited to become part of the tradition. "The more I'm around the more I learn about these kinds of things," captain Julian Valentin said, "and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Rowdies was a huge rivalry and Lockhart Stadium, we're going back. It's been around for a long time and we're excited to be the next chapter of that."The two sides will compete for the Coastal Cup, which will be awarded to the club that earns the better record over the season's four-game series. That appears to have added some extra energy to both already excited sets of fans. The players are also excited for the opening clash between the two sides, with a good contingent of Rowdies fans expected to make the trip south. "I think rivalries are always good, not just for us players but for the fans," Rowdies midfielder Jeremy Christie said. "I think there's going to be a few fans coming down to Miami so we're definitely looking forward to it. After losing at the weekend in a game we thought we should have gotten more out of we're really excited and looking forward to this game." The most important aspect of the game for Rowdies coach Paul Dalglish, though, is getting the right result to make sure the team is above .500 entering its home opener and not letting the teams above them in the USL Conference get too big of a lead early in the season. That said, a win against the Rowdies' biggest foe would be an excellent way to get local fans excited about seeing the team at home for the first time next Saturday. "What better way to build excitement for the home opener than to beat Miami in Miami?" Dalglish said. "I just think that if we can do that I think the interest will come up for May 8. We've got a great group of players and I've got complete confidence in this group to go down to Miami and get a result."
Nicholas J.E. Murray can be reached at (813) 259-8243.
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