Rowdies’ championship match canceled after coronavirus outbreak

With Tampa Bay players and coaches testing positive, the USL decides not to reschedule the final.
Tampa Bay Rowdies players work out on the field together at Al Lang Stadium before the season re-started.
Tampa Bay Rowdies players work out on the field together at Al Lang Stadium before the season re-started. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 31, 2020|Updated Oct. 31, 2020

The USL Championship on Saturday canceled Sunday night’s title match between the Rowdies and Phoenix at Al Lang Stadium after more people in the Rowdies organization tested positive for the coronavirus.

A day after Tampa Bay said that three personnel, including coach Neill Collins and assistant Kevin Foley, had tested positive, the league said that “a number” of additional positive tests came back after rapid testing Saturday morning at the Rays' medical facilities.

That group included multiple players, ESPN reported.

That led the USL Championship to cancel the match.

“The affected individuals have been immediately isolated at home, are recovering in good spirits under the care of team physicians and infectious disease experts, and all league, local and state health and wellness protocols continue to be followed,” the league said in a statement.

Instead of rescheduling the match, the teams and league decided to end the season for the health and safety of all involved. The season ends with just Eastern and Western conference champions.

“First and foremost, we want to applaud these two teams on an incredible season,” USL president Jake Edwards said in a statement. “They deserved the opportunity to play for the USL Championship Final trophy, and we are disappointed that we won’t be able to watch them on Sunday night. With that said, we want to thank all of our clubs, our supporters, our players and our staff for all of their time, hard work and energy this season. We’ve grown closer under difficult circumstances, and we can’t wait to be back together again soon.”

The Rowdies said in a statement that they were disappointed but understood the decision.

“With positive COVID-19 cases rising across the country, we implore all Rowdies fans to practice social distancing and wear masks,” the statement said. “Returning to the pitch safely next season will take each and every community working together to do its part to slow the spread and help contain the pandemic.”

On Friday, the Rowdies said that other than the two coaches and an unidentified employee testing positive, all subsequent tests for players and personnel had come back negative. Collins said on a Zoom call with media that he had been following all coronavirus protocols and was unsure how he had contracted the virus.

This would have been the first USLd Championship final for the Rowdies, who finish 13-3-3. In the NASL, they won the 2012 crown at Al Lang, defeating Minnesota in penalty kicks in the second leg of a home-and-home final.

Phoenix (14-3-2) was second in the league in scoring with 47 regular-season goals. It would have been without the league’s top goal scorer in the championship game. Junior Flemmings (14 goals) was suspended Oct. 6 for the rest of the season after a league investigation confirmed an allegation that he used a homophobic slur against openly gay San Diego midfielder Collin Martin in a game Sept. 30.

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San Diego coach Landon Donovan, the former U.S. national team star, pulled his team off the field in that game after learning of the allegation and forfeited a match his team led 3-1. The three points Phoenix got from the win helped it earn the right to host the league title match. But on Oct. 20 Phoenix said it was giving up that right, citing the optics of the situation.

“We would prefer to shine a positive light on our commitment to the LGBTQ community and amplify the need for acceptance and equality in professional sports,” it said in a statement.

The league also said Saturday that the Rowdies and Phoenix may play each other to kick off the 2021 season.

Times correspondent Darek Sharp contributed to this report.