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)

New arrival Needham solidifies Rowdies defense

ST. PETERSBURG — For three months, Jay Needham was in soccer limbo.

The central defender had just completed his second season with Puerto Rico, where he was a mainstay on the back line, logging a team-high 2,236 minutes during the regular season.

But there were signs that all might not be well on the "Island of Enchantment."

Attendance in 2012 suffered while the Islanders played a majority of their games at the Bayamon Soccer Complex — their auxiliary practice stadium — while Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel was converted from a baseball stadium to a soccer-specific facility.

Needham could become a free agent after 2012, though the club held an option for 2013. After the season, the club announced it was declining the options on all players while working out budget concerns.

With his Islanders' future in doubt, Needham and his agent started looking for other teams. On Jan. 7, he signed a three-year deal with the Rowdies.

"It was a difficult decision what to do at first because my wife had all her work stuff set up down there. I had a very comfortable situation there. I was, literally, two blocks from the beach," Needham, 28, said. "We had great friends there, so I really loved it. At the same time, you could just see something wasn't right.

"As soon as I knew a deal wasn't going to happen with Puerto Rico, it was an easy decision to come to the Rowdies; a no-brainer. When the champions want you, you come to the champions."

In late December, the NASL said Puerto Rico would not play the 2013 spring season while the team reorganized operations. In February, the team canceled the fall portion as well while planning for a return in 2014.

Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said Needham was the team's No. 1 offseason target at center back.

"I had always seen Jay as someone who was an old-fashioned center half … in respect of understanding that he's our last line of the defense. And he competes very well in the air and on the ground," Hill said.

"He's a great character, great personality and fits in perfectly to our scheme."

Despite a rocky preseason, the addition of Needham has been a major boost to a back line that returns nearly intact from last season's championship run. (Among the regulars, only Land O'Lakes native J.P. Rodrigues wasn't brought back, a difficult decision Hill said was brought about by economics.)

The Rowdies have not allowed a goal through two games. In the opener, a scoreless tie, Carolina was completely shut down. In a 2-0 victory, San Antonio, which scored 10 goals in four games against Tampa Bay last season, managed only a few threats.

"The defense is a really tight-knit group that understands the way we want to play, the way we want to condense the field, the way we want to … put pressure on (the opponent)," Needham said. "It's guys that understand their roles. You could see it building and building and building in the preseason. And then we finally got to put it into practice in the first game of the season, and it looked wonderful.

"The good thing is we've set ourselves a high standard that we can keep building on. We do that, and we'll be celebrating another championship at the end of the season."

.Rowdies notes

Forwards Mike Ambersley (sprained MCL) and Carl Cort (slightly torn calf) are a week away from practicing. The best-case scenario is a return May 4 against Edmonton. … M Stuart Campbell (calf) is wearing a boot and is out at least a few more weeks. … D Andres Arango also is out tonight after aggravating a hamstring injury during the first half against San Antonio on April 13. … Expect to see M Raphael Cox move to left back while Arango recovers. He was named the NASL player of the week for his play during the 2-0 victory at San Antonio.

Bryan Burns, Times correspondent

New arrival Needham solidifies Rowdies defense 04/19/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 8:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning's Steve Yzerman enjoying Nikita Kucherov's scoring run

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov celebrates his second-period goal against the Devils, his eighth overall, giving him goals in each of the first seven games.
  2. Bucs journal: Offense needs to get off to a faster start


    TAMPA — The past two games have seen the Bucs offense muster furious rallies in the fourth quarter of losses, with 229 yards against the Patriots and a franchise-record 27 points against the Cardinals.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  3. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues


    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]
  4. Lightning's Steve Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov 'wants to be great'


    If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Nikita Kucherov joined Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games.
  5. Fennelly: Longtime Bucs fans, we want to hear from you


    Calling all Bucs fans! Calling all Bucs fans!

    Jameis Winston is pressured by Chandler Jones during the Bucs' loss to the Cardinals Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.