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Rowdies name Rongen new head coach

Thomas Rongen, right, then coach of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, watches Carlos Valderrama dribble a ball on his head during a news conference.  [Times files (1996)]
Thomas Rongen, right, then coach of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, watches Carlos Valderrama dribble a ball on his head during a news conference. [Times files (1996)]
Published Dec. 4, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe not in terms of days on the calendar, but not long after the Tampa Bay Rowdies had their new general manager, they had their new head coach.

Thomas Rongen was tabbed the new Rowdies leader Wednesday, reuniting with Farrukh Quraishi, who was his GM for the inaugural season of the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1996.

"When Farrukh reached out to me, I came to the conclusion very shortly after that this was definitely a unique opportunity," Rongen said Wednesday.

Though that Mutiny team finished with the best regular-season record and Rongen was named MLS coach of the year, attendance and ownership issues led to the league relieving Quraishi. Rongen left, moving on to coach the New England Revolution for a couple of years.

Since then Rongen, 58, helmed two other MLS squads and spent nine years leading the U.S. Men's National Under-20 club. Most recently he was Toronto FC's director for three seasons. Before that he had his most rewarding role, which ended up with him being a bit of a film star.

Rongen took over the woebegone American Samoa national team in 2011. Prior to his appointment it had lost 30 straight international games, going winless for 17 years. A 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001 cemented the Samoans as the worst club in the world.

Under Rongen's guidance, American Samoa won a World Cup qualifying game against Tonga. The turnaround is documented in the acclaimed film Next Goal Wins, released this year.

The documentary shows Rongen at times being very hard on his team, but plenty supportive as well. That's his style.

"I've mellowed somewhat,'' he said. "I'm emotional, but honest. I think players appreciate that. If I didn't have that emotion I wouldn't be coaching, I just love the sport.''

Rongen doesn't have nearly as much of a task in turning around the Rowdies. He was already at work talking roster moves Wednesday with Quraishi and assistant GM Perry Van Der Beck.

With the coaching hire the Rowdies announced the release of goalkeeper Ryan Thompson, defender Jordan Gafa and midfielders Kyle Clinton and Evans Frimpong. That leaves Tampa Bay with just eight players, and Rongen has an idea what he's looking for.

"We're looking at increasing the athleticism, the overall team speed," he said. "And we want to create a culture within the club, one of respect, and character. We need to bring in the right people, not just for their playing abilities but good human beings."

The eight holdovers: 2013 NASL Most Valuable Player Georgi Hristov, 2013 leading goal scorer Brian Shriver, goaltender Matt Pickens, captain Frankie Sanfilippo, Corey Hertzog, Tamika Mkandawire, Blake Wagner and Shane Hill, son of outgoing coach Ricky Hill.

Tampa Bay plans to soon announce a meet-and-greet with fans, something Rongen is looking forward to.

"I kept an eye on the NASL, with my history with the Rowdies, Strikers (he was their first signed player in 1988) and Cosmos,'' he said. "Watching some video of their last game, seeing the stadium filled, clearly you can see these fans have a connection with the past and the old fans have led to young fans. We want those who come to the game to walk out of the stadium with a good feeling.''

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