Saturday, June 23, 2018
Sports

Rowdies part of record-setting season for USL attendance

ST. PETERSBURG — Although Rowdies fans haven't had many recent opportunities to show out at Al Lang, the United Soccer League turnstiles keep turning at a record rate.

With every club now at least halfway through its season, the USL has surpassed the 1 million mark in attendance at the earliest point in its history. Last year's high of 1.5 million is a cinch.

And though it won't be during the three-game homestand the Rowdies kick off tonight, who knows? Al Lang Stadium might be where the 2 million threshold gets crossed.

"We're already discussing what we'll give the 2 millionth man, woman or child. We know it won't be $2 million," USL commissioner Jake Edwards said.

Average Al Lang attendance has been 5,663 through nine games, good for seventh out of the 30 USL teams — but actually just a couple hundred more than the league average. That's because top draw Cincinnati is well ahead of everyone else at nearly 20,000 per game.

Sacramento, considered a front-runner along with Tampa Bay for an Major League Soccer expansion franchise, is the only other club averaging five figures at 11,569.

There are no qualms from Edwards — no relation to Rowdies owner Bill Edwards — with franchises such as Tampa Bay looking to move to the top of the U.S. soccer pyramid.

"We support it. We have teams with different ambitions," he said. "We've got five, I would argue, of the more successful MLS teams that came out of the USL. We helped prove the market, the teams were able to make the move up. It actually gives us a sense of pride."

Several USL sides are actually MLS reserve squads. And the USL, headquartered in Tampa, is looking to keep growing. It has already doubled in size since 2014; the league mission statement, Vision 2020, calls for another dozen franchises by that year.

After a 3-0 start that promised a possible stroll through the league, Tampa Bay has won only four of its past 16, putting it in fourth place in the East (7-5-7, 28 points). A team the Rowdies outclassed in the season opener, Orlando City B, stole a point last week with a 95th-minute penalty.

"It's a very tough league," Jake Edwards said. "The Rowdies started really strong, were able to get a few home games under their belt, but they've found out teams like Cincinnati, Louisville, Richmond … have very good players. All the feedback I've gotten from (the Rowdies), they're loving it, finding it extremely high in quality. They're in a good spot."

Though their current spot (top four) would have the Rowdies hosting a playoff game, three teams are within a victory of surpassing them. And tonight Tampa Bay hosts East-leading Charleston (10-3-5, 35 points); the Battery has already beaten the Rowdies twice.

On Thursday, Tampa Bay added a potentially large piece toward boosting its standing in forward Walter Restrepo, released last week by the NASL's New York Cosmos.

"Walter is a player we've known for a long time, and he's really exciting to watch," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "He's got the killer instinct to take on defenders and go for the goal, which will complement our current roster nicely."

Restrepo (16 goals, 20 assists in six NASL seasons) likely will be available off the bench tonight.

 
Comments
Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

ST. PETERSBURG — With all that's been said, tweeted, ranted and written on these pages and elsewhere about the Rays' odd, unorthodox, weird and some days downright wacky pitching plan, this might be the craziest thing yet:It's working.Like, rea...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

There are many unanswered questions and discrepancies about the story of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and the March 2016 Uber ride in Arizona that has led to his upcoming three-game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct policy.The Bucs won't ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

A t his introductory news conference after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Bucs in 2015, Jameis Winston said to judge him on his actions moving forward."Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have hear...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Besides the continual evolution of their intriguing pitching plan, the primary topics of conversation for the Rays over the next several weeks will be trades and prospects. And not mutually exclusively.Some sooner than others, the Rays are going to c...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

It's rare to see an NHL draft pick with Tampa Bay ties, but the Jets used a third-round pick Saturday on center Nathan Smith, 19, who played for Mitchell High School in Trinity and most recently for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.Smith was ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Despite limited salary-cap room, the Lightning is among at least five teams expected to talk with Islanders All-Star center John Tavares, who can be a free agent July 1, when the courting period begins Sunday, ESPN reported.Tavares also is expected t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

ST. PETERSBURG — The key to SS Willy Adames rapping two of the biggest hits in the Rays' 4-0 win Saturday actually took place the night before.An RBI single that snapped an 0-for-12 and a second hit two winnings later in Friday's game restored ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Even without a first-round pick, the Lightning wrapped up its draft with seven picks Saturday, starting with Gabriel Fortier, an undersized 18-year-old forward from Quebec in the second round."They were guys that we really wanted," Lightning director...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Yankees game

INF Daniel Robertson has only played two games after a short DL stint, but it seems like he has already made a half dozen great plays. Willy Adames and Jake Bauers get the attention, but Robertson has the skills to steal the show any night.It is obvi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay Tech wins Battle of the Bay 7-on-7 tournament

Tampa Bay Tech wins Battle of the Bay 7-on-7 tournament

TAMPA — Tampa Bay Tech lost some significant players from an offense that averaged more than 40 points per game last season.The biggest departures were in the passing game. Mike Penix, the Tampa Bay Times' all-Tampa Bay offensive player of the ...
Updated: 4 hours ago