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A simple Rowdies request: Fans, please turn out in force again

Defender Luke Boden, right, heading the ball over Orlando City B’s Paul Clowes, is one of five new Rowdies who played all of the season opener.
Defender Luke Boden, right, heading the ball over Orlando City B’s Paul Clowes, is one of five new Rowdies who played all of the season opener.
Published Apr. 1, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — It would be asking a lot of Rowdies fans to show up for Game No. 2 of the season the way they did for the opener, when an Al Lang Stadium record crowd of 7,710 created a veritable soundtrack for a 1-0 victory over Orlando City B a week ago today.

Still, if supporters of the green and gold wouldn't terribly mind …

"Right now teams look forward to coming here," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "The pitch is so nice, the surroundings. We want to turn that around. We want to make teams dread coming here."

Toronto FC II, Campbell hopes, leaves with that feeling after tonight's game at Al Lang.

Campbell isn't suggesting fans get nasty. He just wants a large showing of support that uplifts the home team.

"It's absolutely priceless, just the energy, the encouragement, the lift it gives to the players," Campbell said. "(Last Saturday's game) was the best I've ever experienced at Al Lang."

A notable observer would agree. United Soccer League president Jake Edwards was there.

"You had this really loud, boisterous, tribal singing, chanting throughout the game. I thoroughly enjoyed it," said Edwards, leader of the league in which the Rowdies are spending their first season after six years in the NASL.

"At that stadium, the roof keeps the noise in the venue, which is great. But the civility goes to the ethos of the club. They put on an event that's family focused, and community focused."

Edwards is a pretty happy man after last weekend. Two other USL teams also set attendance records, with Richmond drawing 8,021 and Phoenix 6,890.

Tonight's Rowdies opponent was the visitor in the latter, and that crowd didn't bother Toronto, which won 1-0. Ryan Telfer, just signed out of York University, got the lone goal. Toronto's wing backs had their way with Phoenix.

"They were really impressive, and I've got to be honest, it wasn't against the odds they got the three points," Campbell said.

Tampa Bay will be tested more than it was by Orlando City B, which got outshot 21-3. Georgi Hristov had the only score on a second-half penalty kick.

The Rowdies substituted only twice, both in injury time

"We looked very good in the preseason, fitness wise," Campbell said. "I just felt, we looked fit, sharp, strong, and I didn't want to tinker too much with it."

Five new Rowdies went the distance: goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, defenders Damion Lowe and Luke Boden, and midfielders Marcel Schafer and Leo Fernandes, whose run created the penalty kick.

Now, to see if the fans can keep up their endurance with another strong turnout.