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)

Gafa home with Rowdies, NASL

Jordan Gafa made his Rowdies debut last week.

Jordan Gafa made his Rowdies debut last week.

ST. PETERSBURG — Wherever Jordan Gafa has landed during his soccer career, Frankie Sanfilippo has been close by to lend a helping hand.

Gafa, a 22-year-old defender, was not selected in the 2013 MLS draft. Fort Lauderdale and Carolina were interested after a successful NASL combine, though nothing materialized. MLS's Columbus Crew invited Gafa to preseason camp but released him after 2½ weeks.

That was when Sanfilippo put in a good word to Rowdies coach Ricky Hill and executive vice president Perry Van Der Beck on behalf of his longtime friend. Gafa and Sanfilippo are from San Diego and have known each other most of their lives. Gafa was 5 when he was introduced to Sanfilippo, nine years his senior. Their families have remained close.

"It was his first professional year, and at that time you're struggling to find a team, you get released here, you get released there," Sanfilippo said. "It's good to help out someone that you know and someone you know has talent and can do something on the field."

When Gafa entered San Diego Cathedral Catholic High School, Sanfilippo, who was an assistant coach for the Dons soccer team during the offseasons of his professional career, convinced coach Bryan Wood to move the youngster to the varsity. In his senior season, Gafa was named San Diego County and California Interscholastic Federation Player of the Year.

"He was our star player," Sanfilippo said.

Gafa then played at the University of North Carolina and, as a right back, helped the Tar Heels win a NCAA championship in 2011. When Gafa arrived in Chapel Hill, Sanfilippo was nearby in Cary playing for the Carolina RailHawks.

"I had him there to help me get settled," Gafa said. "He'd come to my games, and I'd go watch him play for the RailHawks."

Gafa was signed by the Rowdies three weeks into his preseason trial with the team.

"Frankie's known of him for a while and suggested that he's a quality person and a good player," Hill said. "Frankie's been with the squad for three years, and he knows what we have in terms of the makeup of the squad. Since Jordan's come, he's been a credit and he's fit in very, very smoothly. And he's a quality footballer."

In Saturday's victory at Fort Lauderdale, Gafa made his pro debut in the 12th minute after starting central defender Jay Needham went down with a pulled groin. He was matched up on the right side with the Strikers' Jemal Johnson, who briefly played in England's Premier League with Blackburn. Gafa acquitted himself well, according to Hill.

"Jordan contained (Johnson) very, very well and was calm in what he did, wasn't rash, he was good positionally and his use of the ball was thoughtful," Hill said. "It was a very pleasing debut."

The Rowdies defense has been hit by injuries in recent weeks. Needham is out for tonight's match against Edmonton and likely won't be ready for the Rowdies' next game, May 18 at Minnesota. Fellow central defender Takuya Yamada also injured his groin late in practice April 25 and missed the victory over the Strikers. Yamada is doubtful tonight.

All of which means Rowdies fans can expect to see more of Gafa in the coming weeks. He is slated to play right back, where he is most comfortable. It's also the spot where Sanfilippo has been a mainstay during his three seasons in Tampa Bay (Sanfilippo will slide over to center in place of Needham).

"It's nice to have Frankie there next to me," Gafa said. "We're like brothers."

. Tonight

Rowdies vs. Edmonton

When/where: 7:30; Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg

Records (W-L-T)/standings: Rowdies 2-1-1 (seven points, tied for first); Edmonton 1-2-1 (four, fifth place)


Tickets: Al Lang box office, which opens three hours before kickoff, and (813) 287-1539

Gates: Open one hour before kickoff

Notes: The Rowdies are 6-1-1 vs. Edmonton and have won six straight. … M Luke Mulholland was named NASL player of the month for April; he had three goals and two assists in four games. … Mulholland, F Georgi Hristov and D Frankie Sanfilippo were named to the NASL team of the week. Ralph's Mob, the Rowdies' supporters group, was named the league's fans of the week title. … Edmonton is coming off its first win, 1-0 over San Antonio in the Eddies' home opener last weekend. F Carl Cort will likely make his season debut after sitting out the first four games with a calf tear. Cort scored two goals in eight games last season after joining the team Aug. 10.

Gafa home with Rowdies, NASL 05/03/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 9:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. College World Series: Gators, LSU face off in all-SEC finals


    OMAHA, Neb. — The matchup for the College World Series finals bolsters the case for those who say the best baseball in the land is played in the SEC.

    Florida’s Brady Singer, delivering during a CWS win over Louisville last week, is scheduled to start tonight against LSU.
  2. Jones: Fox Sports Sun shows depth in Rays coverage

    TV and Radio

    tom jones' two cents

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) makes a run home for a score in the in the final game of a three-game series between the Tampa Bay Rays and AL East rival the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
  3. Brian Boyle says returning to Lightning a 'huge option'


    As former Lightning forward Brian Boyle approaches free agency this week, he said he's trying to stay busy.

  4. Rays journal: Blake Snell to rejoin rotation, Erasmo Ramirez heads to bullpen

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Blake Snell is rejoining the Rays' rotation, but the move has as much to do with helping the bullpen as it does with Snell's improvement during his time at Triple-A Durham.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.
  5. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.