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ROWDIES HAVE NEW PIECES ALL OVER

With a new principal owner in St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, new players boasting high-level experience and new midfield seats providing premium views of the field and waterfront, perhaps no season opener since the reintroduction of the Rowdies in 2010 has been as highly anticipated. They kick off the season tonight against Edmonton at Al Lang Stadium. Three major story lines have emerged for the Rowdies, who won the 2012 NASL title but failed to reach the title game last season.

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Local star comes home

After signing 2013 league MVP Georgi Hristov to a four-year contract in the offseason, the Rowdies added to an already potent lineup with Clearwater High graduate Brian Shriver.

Shriver, a forward who was on the field at Al Lang in last season's opener playing for Carolina, scored a league-high 15 goals in 2013.

Combining up top with Hristov and one of three options - Carl Cort, Lucky Mkosana and Casey Townsend - for the third forward spot in coach Ricky Hill's preferred 4-3-3 formation, Shriver heads an attack that has the potential to lead the league in scoring for the second straight season.

"We have so many guys the team brought in that can contribute offensively," Shriver, 26, said. "But ultimately, we still have to go out and score goals."

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New goalkeeper

Venezuelan-born goalkeeper Diego Restrepostarted 2013 as a backup, became the starterby Game 4 and was, arguably, the best keeper in the NASL by season's end. But he starts the season wearing a boot on his left leg after tearing his Achilles tendon during the second week of preseason camp.

While Restrepo hopes to return for the fall season, the Rowdies signed three keepers: Cody Mizell after his preseason tryout, Jamaican national Ryan Thompson and former MLS standout Matt Pickens.

Pickens, 32, likely will start tonight. He holds the Colorado franchise records for games in net (116) and wins (41).

"Matt's experience is something that we hope throughout the course of his time here at the club will play great benefit to us defensively," Hill said.

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Getting defensive

The downfall of the 2013 Rowdies was a back line that allowed a league-high 27 goals in 14 fall season games and left Restrepo under a constant barrage of shots and breakaways.

While the defense remains largely intact, a couple of additions, including a familiar face, have the Rowdies hoping the problem has been rectified.

For the first time, the Rowdies will have a true left-footed left back in Blake Wagner, who spent four seasons with Dallas of MLS and the past two with San Antonio of the NASL.

Anthony Wallace, a midfielder previously with Colorado, also can fill in at left back if needed. Returning is Land O'Lakes High graduate J.P. Rodrigues, who played for the Rowdies in 2011 as and during their title run in 2012, when he paired with Takuya Yamada for 25 of 32 league games in central defense.

"(Now that) he's been back, you realize how much you missed him last year," Hill said of Rodrigues, who was out of the league last season. "He's got that will to win, that desire to never get beat. I think that can be infectious."

Rodrigues joins Willie Hunt, who made the team after a tryout, and a group of holdovers that include four-year captain Frankie Sanfilippo, Yamada, the 39-year-old Japanese international, 2013 part-time starter Jay Needham and right back candidate Jordan Gafa.

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Roster

No. .....Player...................Pos. ....State/Country

4.........Kyle Clinton............MF.....Florida(Safety Harbor)

25.......Carl Cort..................F.....England

9.........Devin Del Do............F.....California

20.......Evans Frimpong.......MF.....Ghana

14.......Jordan Gafa.............D.....California

11.......Shane Hill...............MF.....England

10.......Georgi Hristov..........F.....Bulgaria

3.........Willie Hunt...............D....South Carolina

86.......Christophe Lallet.....MF.....Sweden

1.........Cody Mizell............GK.....Georgia

17........Lucky Mkosana.......F.....Zimbabwe

33........Jay Needham.........D.....Texas

18........Matt Pickens..........GK.....Missouri

24........Diego Restrepo.....GK.....Venezuela

5..........J.P. Rodrigues........D......Florida(Land O'Lakes)

8..........Darel Russell.........MF.....England

7..........Frankie Sanfilippo...D......California

22........Keith Savage.........MF.....Florida (Gulf Breeze)

21........Brian Shriver..........F......Florida (Clearwater)

99........Ryan Thompson.....GK.....Jamaica

19........Blake Wagner.........D......Florida(Tampa)

16........Amani Walker..........F......California

13........Anthony Wallace.....MF.....New York

32........Takuya Yamada......D......Japan

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Spring schedule

April

Tonight: Edmonton, 7: 30

19: at Indy, 7: 30

26: Atlanta, 7: 30

May

3: at San Antonio, 8: 30

10: at Ottawa, 7

17: New York, 7: 30

24: Fort Lauderdale, 7: 30

31: at Carolina, 7: 30

June

7: Minnesota, 7: 30

Fall schedule

July

12: Atlanta, 7: 30

19: at Indy, 7: 30

26: San Antonio, 7: 30

August

2: at Fort Lauderdale, 7: 30

9: at Carolina, 7: 30

16: New York, 7: 30

23: Carolina, 7: 30

30: at Ottawa, 7

September

6: at Minnesota, 8

13: Ottawa, 7: 30

21: at Edmonton, 4

27: Fort Lauderdale, 7: 30

October

4: Edmonton, 7: 30

11: at San Antonio, 8: 30

15: Minnesota, 7: 30

18: at Atlanta, 7

25: at New York, 7

November

1: Indy, 7: 30

NASL: Because of the World Cup, teams will play each other once during the spring season and twice during the fall. Each season's winner and the two teams with the best record spanning both seasons make the playoffs. If one team wins both seasons, the next three teams make the playoffs.

Tickets: Al Lang Stadium box office, toll-free 1-877-769-3437, rowdiessoccer.com

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Rowdies vs. Edmonton

When/where: 7: 30 tonight; Al Lang Stadium TV: Ch. 38Tickets: Box office, toll-free 1-877-769-3437, rowdiessoccer.com

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