Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Rowdies fans, the Beard is a keeper

Goalkeeper Matt Pickens, 34, juggles the ball between drills. This year the Rowdies have conceded just eight times from nine contests, with Pickens needing to make just 16 saves.


Goalkeeper Matt Pickens, 34, juggles the ball between drills. This year the Rowdies have conceded just eight times from nine contests, with Pickens needing to make just 16 saves.


Related News/Archive

There is much more to the Beard than the beard.

But come on. The sprawling, currently almost biblical display on goalkeeper Matt Pickens' chin has aptly earned him the moniker from Rowdies fans.

But it's his recent play that really has endeared him. Since joining Tampa Bay in 2014, off an accomplished MLS career, Pickens has emerged as the mainstay in goal.

More on that in a second. Back to the beard.

"I've always carried a beard, but this one … the last time I shaved it was November," he said.

Of 2014? It just looks that way.

"I went home to St. Louis and just kind of kept it there because it was so cold."

It doesn't hurt Pickens' cause that the look — and a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame — gives him an intimidating edge. But his beard doesn't make saves, and Pickens has made plenty at key times. Only Jimmy Maurer of league-leading New York has more shutouts, with Pickens earning four in league play, and a fifth last week when the Rowdies knocked off FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup.

That victory gives Pickens and the Rowdies a shot against MLS Columbus Crew on June 15. Though some Rowdies might be a little intimidated, rest assured Pickens will not be. He won an MLS title with Colorado in 2010.

That MLS Cup victory over Dallas provided a career highlight. Colorado went ahead 2-1 in the second overtime but the goal scorer, Macoumba Kandji, tore his ACL on the play — a big problem as the Rapids had no more subs.

"It was one of the craziest things," Pickens recalled. "The whole last 10 minutes, holding the fort down, absorbing all that pressure. It was the most nervous I've been, with the magnitude of the game, waves and waves of pressure. Little bit hectic but … it was a fun little game."

That last line should make clear to Rowdies fans that Pickens can handle pressure, but his recent play has driven home the point. In the win over Cincinnati he made an amazing, change-of-direction sliding save to prevent a tying own goal. Tampa Bay's back line is much improved, but when it falters, Pickens has proven reliable.

"Overall defensively, the team's been great, and then when it comes to Matt in a one-versus-one situation, he's done really well," said coach Stuart Campbell. This year the Rowdies have conceded just eight times from nine contests, with Pickens needing to make just 16 saves.

Defense has been a big focus for Campbell, who took over for Thomas Rongen during a fall season that saw the Rowdies allow 28 goals in 20 games. In 2014, Pickens' first year with Tampa Bay, he started 24 games and the Rowdies allowed an unacceptable 50 across 28 contests.

As a result, the Rowdies brought in some competition in the form of fellow veteran Kamil Contofalsky, who led off as the starter but was supplanted by Pickens.

Even though he's 34, it looks like it may be a while before the Beard becomes the Graybeard.

"I'm no spring chicken anymore. But I eat well, rest well, stay away from the bad stuff," Pickens said. "I'm healthy, and if I can just keep my mind on the grind, I'll play for a while."

He's been doing it for a couple of decades, starting off at age 11 and quickly being drawn to goal.

"I had three older brothers (Jason, Ryan and Jonathan), so I didn't really have any say. They threw me in goal," Pickens said. His high school, St. Francis Borgia in Missouri, got as far as the state quarterfinals. After starting off at St. Louis Community College, Pickens ended at Southwest Missouri State.

The Bears took on nearby major competition from teams such as Saint Louis University, Bradley and Southern Methodist but they never reached the NCAA tournament, losing in the Missouri Valley Conference finals one season. He earned MVC recognition — and for his pro prospects, his offseason training with a Chicago PDL team earned him a trial with the MLS' Chicago Fire, which ended up drafting him.

"I always wanted to be a pro soccer player. The tryout was more exciting and fun for me. It wasn't about being nervous," he said.

His play leaves Rowdies fans less nervous these days. But the ones who love the beard might need to start worrying.

"I'm probably going to cut it when it starts getting hot," he said. "I don't do well in the heat, especially with all the gear I have on, and with the humidity it can really weigh you down. So that time's going to come here soon."

This is the latest installment in our summer series profiling the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

>>Fast facts

Coming up

Saturday: at Jacksonville, 4 p.m.

U.S. Open Cup fourth round: at MLS' Columbus Crew, 7 p.m. June 15

Start of fall season: vs. Jacksonville, 7:30 p.m. July 2

Home games: at Al Lang Stadium

Tickets: Call (727) 222-2000 or visit

For Rowdies fans, the Beard is a keeper 06/08/16 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2016 11:49am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Yankees game

    The Heater

    The 10 strikeouts look flashy, but RHP Chris Archer was not his sharpest Thursday. He allowed three runs on seven hits, including three straight in the two-run second and a Gary Sanchez homer in the third, and lasted only six innings, throwing 102 pitches.

  2. Rays fall to Yankees in 11 on Brett Gardner homer (w/ video)

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The front office did its part Thursday, making two trades to bolster the roster in a push for the playoffs. But the Rays didn't follow up in a frustrating 6-5 11-inning loss to the Yankees.

    Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge stands on the mound and can only watch as the Yankees’ Brett Gardner starts to circle the bases after his walkoff home run leading off the 11th inning.
  3. Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

    Lucas Duda
  4. Bucs' direction is decidedly up for first time in several years


    TAMPA — If you want to see a team give the Heisman Trophy stiff-arm to expectations, check out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Tight end O.J. Howard, left, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, was brought in to give QB Jameis Winston another big-play option.
  5. Rays at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. Friday, New York

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Yankees

    7:05, Yankee Stadium, New York

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) in the dugout during the ninth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, April 2, 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 7-3.