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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

USL execs support Rowdies' MLS bid, think Tampa Bay will remain second-tier for now

Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team owner Bill Edwards and Rick Baker, president of the Edwards Group, appealed in person for Rowdies ticket support from the hundreds of St. Petersburg businesses attending the annual meeting of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, held Jan. 23, 2017 at the Mahaffey Theater.

ROBERT TRIGAUX | Times

Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team owner Bill Edwards and Rick Baker, president of the Edwards Group, appealed in person for Rowdies ticket support from the hundreds of St. Petersburg businesses attending the annual meeting of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, held Jan. 23, 2017 at the Mahaffey Theater.

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Bill Edwards, former Mayor Rick Baker and a swarm of Ralph’s Mob, the fervent fans of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, delivered the team’s Major League Soccer application Monday to league executives in New York.

Considering the Rowdies haven’t played their first game in their current league, the newly-ordained second-tier United Soccer League, how do USL officials feel about being a stepping stone before the Rowdies have even placed a toe in the league?

Surprisingly good.

“We’re all behind the Rowdies. It’s great for the city. I think that’s the way it should work,” said USL CEO Alec Papadakis in an interview in the leagues’ hip, open-space headquarters on Tampa’s Westshore Boulevard earlier this month.

Edwards left the faltering North American Soccer League for the USL after last season, saying he wanted more stability and greater competition.

The 30-team USL takes pride in vaulting teams like the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers ,Vancouver White Caps and Orlando SC to the MLS. Currently, 10 MLS second or reserve teams play in the league.

The Rowdies will benefit from the USL’s growth and new TV deal with ESPN, Papadakis said.

Adding Tampa Bay to the league also fits within the USL’s strategy of expanding into the Southeast. Papadakis said.

League executives say they aren’t worried about a lawsuit against Edwards and his mortgage business, MIC that could stick him with a judgment totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. They praised Edwards for his hands-on leadership style and the investments he’s made and promised to make at the waterfront Al Lang Stadium.

“The Rowdies are a flagship team for our league. Bill has made an impressive investment,” said USL president Jake Edwards.

As for how long the Rowdies will stick around in the USL, Papadakis thinks they’re unlikely to make the first expansion round to be announced later this year.

His predictions?  Sacramento and St. Louis.

However, Papadakis’ picks came before a last-minute rush by San Diego officials to submit an expansion bid before the league’s deadline today.

And who accepted it Monday? MLS Commissioner Don Garber on the flight deck of the USS Midway museum.

Papadakis thinks the Rowdies are a good bet for the second round of expansion and will join the MLS within the next few years.  

 

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 11:08am]

    

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