When the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the New York Cosmos take the field this Saturday, August 10, former South African winger Steve Wegerle will see two of his former teams clash for the first time in three decades. For Wegerle, this match will be more than special, as he was one of the few players to have worn both the Rowdies and the Cosmos uniform during his playing career.
Before joining the Rowdies for the 1977 season, Wegerle spent several seasons in both the English and Dutch leagues. During his five seasons in Tampa Bay, the winger enjoyed several victories over the Cosmos but none more satisfying than the 4-2 win in 1977.
“Defeating the Cosmos at Tampa Stadium is one of my favorite memories as a player,” explained Wegerle. “They had recently signed Franz Beckenbauer and this was his debut, so for us to go out there and defeat them in that fashion was remarkable.”
As the matches between both clubs continued, the media would hype up the rivalry in each occasion. The Cosmos would outplay the Rowdies in the 1978 NASL Soccer Bowl Final, defeating Tampa Bay by a score of 3-1.
“As a player, we always loved these rivalries,” commented the South African. “It was really the media that built it up, but after several matches it was clear that we were the top two teams in the league. The Cosmos were the big name around the world, while we were more of a united team that just played well.”
Early in the 1981 NASL Season, Wegerle saw his talents moved to the Rowdies bitter rival, the New York Cosmos.
“It really wasn’t up to me as my rights got traded to L.A. and then they sent me to New York. I don’t think fans really resented me for leaving Tampa Bay. We didn’t agree on terms for my new contract and the Rowdies ended up trading my rights.”
Since his arrival, Wegerle saw the differences between the clubs. The atmosphere at the Cosmos was a “win at all costs” and it was something that would prove victorious for them as they would go on to make two-straight NASL Soccer Bowl appearances.
“Playing in New York was totally different than in Tampa Bay. We had a more relaxed environment with the Rowdies, but with New York we were expected to win every single match that we played and we knew that.”
When it comes down to choosing sides, Wegerle had no doubt on which team he would support come Saturday’s match.
“The Rowdies have always been my favorite team,” said the winger. “I know from a players standpoint, they know how much this means for both clubs and that they understand this is not just another match.”
The Rowdies and the Cosmos will kick off at 7:30 p.m. knowing that they will need a win to inch closer to a spot in the NASL Soccer Bowl 2013. To purchase tickets for this historic match, call (813) 287-1539 or click here.