The Tampa Bay Rowdies began their inaugural season with a bevy of anticipation as professional soccer returned to the bay area for the first time since 2001. But the season ended with the team out of the playoffs, its first-year coach fired before the season's end and plenty of new questions for the future. So in wrapping up the Rowdies' 2010 season, here's an offseason primer.
Was this season a success?
Given the on-field results and coach Paul Dalglish's unceremonious departure, it would be hard to say Rowdies management was happy with the team's performance. Team owner and president Andrew Nestor believes the front office provided talented players to compensate for injuries and youth, and from Day 1, Nestor said he wanted to compete for a championship in Year 1.
After starting the season 5-1-3, Tampa Bay won just once after May 29. The team ownership and Dalglish agreed that the Rowdies have a strong core of players to build on, but Dalglish might have been the last to know that he wasn't in the team's future plans once the team skidded down the USSF D-2 standings.
The Rowdies had plenty of positives to build on. The new Rowdies brand created a buzz throughout Tampa Bay. They finished with a best record of the league's three expansion teams and finished in the top half of announced league attendance.
Who will be the new coach?
It will not be former Rowdies player Perry Van Der Beck, who wears too many hats for another year of sideline duty. Van Der Beck, the interim coach for the final two games, is the team's vice president, technical director and personnel director. As vice president and assistant coach, he was essentially Dalglish's superior and subordinate, which was structurally weird.
Management will search for a successor with professional coaching experience. The new head man will need knowledge of Division 2 soccer, as well as a good scouting network of contacts — through developmental leagues and U.S. colleges — to find high-value American players. That's not to say the next coach has to be American, but he will have to have a working knowledge of the American game and this league.
The team is scheduled to begin interviews next week, though that might be delayed because the team is considering candidates from USSF D-2 clubs that are in the postseason.
How many current Rowdies will be back next season?
It really depends on the new coach. The team owns options on most players, including veteran midfielders Ricardo Sanchez and Jonny Steele, who were among the team's top players after coming over in a midseason trade with Vancouver. Because of the unique structure of Steele's contract, the team picked up his option in August and has until the end of the month to keep Sanchez.
Seven players are signed for 2011, including midfielders Jeremy Christie and Pascal Millien and goalkeeper Daryl Sattler. The team has until the end of the calendar year to exercise options on 11 others.
Where will the team play in 2011?
Nestor said returning to Steinbrenner Field is an option, but the team will consider all possibilities for a 2011 home. Relocating to USF is an option, and even if the Bulls' new $3.5 million stadium isn't ready, the team could play at the campus' existing stadium.
While it was a nice playing surface, Steinbrenner offered a nominal homefield advantage. It's a baseball stadium that wasn't built with soccer in mind, and the venue's smaller-than-regulation pitch played into a more physical brand of play that wasn't the Rowdies' strength.
How was the fan support?
The Rowdies' boisterous, die-hard fan group, Ralph's Mob, was regularly stationed behind the south goal. But barring the first home game, which drew an announced 8,082 fans, the attendance declined as the season progressed.
Tampa Bay's attendance was in the top half of the league (announced average 3,866), but the announced crowd topped 4,500 just four times, and none past the fifth home date (out of 15). The team was hurt by the rain and summer heat, especially during weeknight games. And it didn't help that the Rowdies had to play 10 of their first 14 games on the road. By the time Tampa Bay played at home for a significant stretch, the team was playing its worst soccer.