ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 26, 2017) -- The Tampa Bay Rowdies' life as a member of the United Soccer League is off to a great start after a 1-0 win over Orlando City B in front of a sold out crowd at Al Lang Stadium.
Here's three things to take away from opening night...
1. An electric atmosphere
Al Lang Stadium was rocking Saturday night with an atmosphere worthy of opening day. Aided by the passion of a match against the Rowdies' nearest USL rival, there was no shortage of energy in the building.
From before kickoff through the final whistle, the Rowdies' faithful cheered Tampa Bay on in a dominant performance.
Saturday night's crowd of 7,710 is a new Al Lang Stadium record.
2. A handful of debuts
Nearly half the Rowdies' opening day starting lineup were players new to the team making their competitive debut. Akira Fitzgerald, Damion Lowe, Luke Boden and Leo Fernandes had all appeared for the Rowdies in preseason but made their full Rowdies debuts in Saturday night's win.
For Luke Boden, it was a special opportunity to face the club he played the last six seasons for.
"I was there for six years, so if you don’t have any emotions there’s definitely something wrong with you," Boden said. "There was definitely some emotions, but now I’m with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and my job with the Rowdies is to win games and tonight we got the three points.”
For Marcel Schäfer, it was his first time suiting up with the team.
Schäfer arrived from Germany on Friday, March 17 and watched the Rowdies' preseason tune-up against Miami FC the following day, but did not play. That meant that his first time playing with his new teammates was in a match that counted.
By all accounts, Schäfer fit in perfectly, playing the full 90 minutes in an impressive performance. He completed 35 passes, made three interceptions and one four duels from his defensive midfield spot. With the duo of Schäfer and Martin Vingaard shielding the Rowdies' back line, Orlando City B managed just three shots on the night.
3. Unbeaten in home openers
The Rowdies entered Saturday night's match with an unbeaten record in home openers in the Modern Era at 2-5-0 (W-T-L). Each of Tampa Bay's last four home openers had ended in draws.
Saturday night's home opener win was the Rowdies' first since the 2012 season, when Tampa Bay last won the league. Each of the Rowdies' three home opener wins has come by a 1-0 scoreline.