Saturday, November 18, 2017
Sports

Michael Nanchoff looks to make mark with Tampa Bay Rowdies

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ST. PETERSBURG

He had no clue about it at the time. All Michael Nanchoff knew of his goal and assist, scored when he was with the Portland Timbers in a 2-0 U.S. Open Cup victory, was that it felt good because he was getting few chances to play otherwise.

As fate would have it, the opponent turned out to be significant. That June 2013 victory for Portland came at the expense of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, whose right back noticed Nanchoff's talent.

The right back who three years later is Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell.

"I've never really stuck that game to coach yet, but in the long run it paid off for me," Nanchoff said. In the form of playing time, something that Nanchoff saw far less of than he'd hoped for in the MLS. He has started 10 of Tampa Bay's 12 matches, though Nanchoff is still waiting to record his first goal.

It's not nearly as long as the agony of the wait that began his pro career. Nanchoff was right in the middle of the formation of a powerhouse college program at the University of Akron, culminating for Nanchoff with a national championship in 2010.

Akron nearly went undefeated in 2009 — "You almost felt invincible when you stepped out onto the field," Nanchoff recalled — but the Zips lost the College Cup finals 0-0 (3-2 in penalty kicks) to Virginia. It all ended well with the title the following season and Nanchoff, who scored 16 goals in three seasons, chose to skip his final year of college eligibility.

Nanchoff was drafted eighth overall by Vancouver, the fifth player from Akron taken in the first round of that 2011 draft.

But that prestige came with a catch — one that hindered Nanchoff's pro prospects right from the start. He played the last month of the Akron season with a torn groin and the ensuing rehab process spilled over.

"For me Vancouver started off on a horrible, horrible step. I had a sports hernia and missed the first four months," he said. "It was rainy, I didn't know too many people there. It took its toll. But it was also a wake-up call for me like, 'Hey, man, you gotta persevere,' and it was tough. Almost like treading water is how I felt. But I don't look back on it as a negative thing."

Then came an even better pro town, Portland, which just so happened to get a new coach in 2013 named Caleb Porter.

"Such an unbelievable soccer city, diehard fans," Nanchoff said.

But he was stuck behind quality midfielder Diego Valeri and sat on the reserve roster while the Timbers were winning the Western Conference and Porter was winning MLS coach of the year honors.

But credit Nanchoff for recognizing the situation he was in.

"Portland was on a tear at the time," he said. "So I had a good long talk with (Porter), told him I'd love to go on loan somewhere. … So within three weeks, I was on my way to Sweden."

Nanchoff had an enriching six months with Jonkopings, scoring two goals and getting consistent playing time. He was used to playing in Europe. His father, George, a former pro and U.S. international team player (uncle Louis also played professionally), took Nanchoff's Cleveland team overseas for many tournaments.

But back in the states, Nanchoff spent most of his time the next two seasons with Portland's United Soccer League side, making just six appearances for the big club, in the end logging around an hour of MLS playing time in more than three seasons.

That doesn't include U.S. Open Cup play, of course. Campbell had a firsthand look at Nanchoff's perfect one-time volley goal, which whizzed by Campbell and into the net. It no doubt popped out of Campbell's memory bank, with Tampa Bay signing Nanchoff, 27, in January.

"That ended up doing me justice," Nanchoff said. "It's amazing here. I really did my research before coming here, wanted an environment suitable to me as a person and player and it's great, from the staff to the fans. Ralph's Mob follows us just about everywhere.

"We get to brag about being a Tampa Bay Rowdie. We have the best fans and people want to play here."

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