Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Sports

Matt Pickens grabs goalkeeping job for Rowdies

ST. PETERSBURG — During his 11-year professional goalkeeping career, Matt Pickens has won an MLS Cup, leading the Colorado Rapids to the league title in 2010.

In his first extended action as a professional starter, Pickens allowed two total goals over four games to help the Chicago Fire win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship in 2006.

Between long stints with the Fire and Rapids, Pickens completed a loan assignment with Queens Park Rangers in the Football League Championship, England's second-highest division.

Now, as a member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies after signing a multiyear contract two weeks before the NASL season, the focus for the 32-year-old remains the same: continue to win games — and championships.

"It's a fine line between being greedy and stuff, but you're only as good as your successes, no matter what level you're playing at," Pickens said. "You want to win stuff. … I want to come out and win the league. This is the league I'm playing in? I want to win the league. If it's this game, I want to win this game. If it's a (penalty kick), I want to win the PK."

Pickens' journey to St. Petersburg was as unforeseen as it was abrupt. After five seasons in Colorado, the Rapids waived Pickens on March 20, the result of a double fracture of his left arm that sidelined him 31/2 months and the emergence of Rapids backup keeper Clint Irwin.

The New England Revolution claimed Pickens the next day in the waiver draft. Five days later, he was acquired by the Rowdies, who were scrambling for a veteran goalkeeper after a preseason injury (torn Achilles tendon) to 2013 starter Diego Restrepo.

Two games into the 2014 season, Pickens, who stopped a penalty kick in the season opener against Edmonton, has continued the trend of superb goalkeeping for the Rowdies. Tampa Bay has fielded one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers each season since beginning play again in 2010.

"He's been very, very efficient," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. "He's a calming influence. He's got a nice disposition and a steady head on relatively young shoulders for a goalkeeper. Someone with his vast experience and knowledge and ability can inspire the guys."

The move from MLS to NASL could be seen as a demotion, but Pickens doesn't view it that way.

"I think I was ready for a change, and I think I needed some fresh air, personally," Pickens said. "You want to go where you're wanted, where someone's going to go to bat for you, and these guys went to bat for me to get me here, and what I want to do is go out there and play every game 120 percent for them."

Despite being with the Rowdies for only four weeks and two league matches — a third comes tonight when Tampa Bay hosts the Atlanta Silverbacks — Pickens has already established himself as a "vocal presence" on and off the field, captain Frankie Sanfilippo said. For his part, Pickens finds the family atmosphere in the locker room refreshing.

"I've been some places before where (teammates) just get in and get out (of practice) and that's no fun," he said. "The locker room in here is one of the best that I've seen so far in my short time. There's a good camaraderie, which 100 percent translates to the field.

"I kind of like that little brother­hood that they have in this league. It kind of reminds me of the beginning of MLS where we had all those things."

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