TAMPA — Two days before restarting the NASL season with the fall campaign, the Rowdies completed a trade that could have far-reaching effects.
Tampa Bay traded playmaker Mike Ambersley to Minnesota United on Thursday for Maltese forward Etienne Barbara, a swap the Rowdies hope will result in more offensive firepower.
Barbara, 31, spent the spring season with Minnesota, appearing in seven matches (six starts) and scoring two goals.
In 2011 with Carolina, he was the NASL MVP after leading the league in goals (20) and assists (nine) and helping the RailHawks to the regular-season title. He moved up to MLS in 2012 to play for Vancouver but was limited by injuries and made just two appearances for the Whitecaps.
Barbara has also earned 32 caps for Malta's national team and scored three goals, including one during a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
"Etienne gives us another goal scorer," Rowdies defender and captain Frankie Sanfilippo said. "We saw what he could do while he was with Carolina. He can be a guy that creates opportunities and scores goals."
Ambersley, 30, signed before the 2011 season and made an immediate impact, leading the team that season in goals (11) and assists (seven) and being named to the NASL Best XI team. He followed with another solid year, with eight goals (second on Rowdies) and a team-high nine assists in 2012.
The St. Louis native missed much of the 2013 NASL spring season with a sprained MCL in his knee but scored two goals in 286 minutes.
"It's a shame we lost Mike," Sanfilippo said. "He's one of the reasons we won the title in 2012."
The Rowdies appear to be at full strength heading into Saturday's fall season opener at San Antonio, a welcome departure from the spring season opener when the team was missing a handful of regulars because of injury — Ambersley (knee), forward Carl Cort (calf), midfielder Keith Savage (meniscus tear) and defenseman Draymond Washington (knee).
The only person hobbling around practice this week is coach Ricky Hill, who had hip-replacement surgery during the monthlong break.
"I think the key for us will be the defensive element," Hill said. "Can we be consistent enough throughout the course of the season to give us a chance to stay in games and win games? If we don't concede or give away cheap goals, then I always think we're capable of creating opportunities with the personnel we have in the side."
The Rowdies are hoping their final two performances from the spring season will carry over. They defeated spring season champion Atlanta 2-1 before finishing with a 4-0 shutout of rival Fort Lauderdale.
"It was good for the guys to get away. I think their heads have been cleared a little bit," Hill said. "I think they've had time to reflect on the first part of the season and how disappointed they all were, the fact that we finished so close but still so far away."