TAMPA — Perry Van Der Beck says he'll always be a Rowdie, but after parting ways with the team, he has become part of something else.
Van Der Beck was hired this week as the United Soccer League's vice president of competition and operations. The 29-team league, third in the U.S. Soccer pyramid behind Major League Soccer and the Rowdies' North American Soccer League, is based out of Tampa, allowing Van Der Beck to stay home.
"I've been in Tampa since 1978. This was a great opportunity to stay in professional soccer," he said.
Van Der Beck was the last link to the original Rowdies, most recently as the team's assistant general manager.
After he left the Rowdies in early May, Van Der Beck called the decision "the most difficult I have ever made in my soccer life," but he sounded in a much happier place Wednesday, two days after starting his new job.
"I just needed time to step back and collect my thoughts," he said.
Van Der Beck, 56, will be busy. He is in charge of day-to-day operations, scheduling, competition, discipline, referees and more. The USL spans the country, growing so much that it has been divided into two conferences.
The league contains several reserve teams for MLS clubs, including the lone Florida team, Orlando City B. The USL's FC Cincinnati recently gave the Rowdies a major test in a U.S. Open Cup game (Tampa Bay won 2-1) then drew 11,278 for its next home game.
"The USL is doing phenomenal. The league is very organized. It's the most sophisticated and competitive league outside of the MLS," Van Der Beck said.
Still, it will be strange to no longer be a part of the green and gold, at least from an official standpoint.
"That was something. People remember those days, lots of fun, exciting, the team was thriving," he said. "I feel fortunate to be part of that. That will never leave me."