ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The Tampa Bay Rowdies have acquired defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele from Birmingham Legion FC in return for an international roster spot and a fee. Vancaeyezeele immediately strengthens Tampa Bay’s defensive unit, which has dealt with injury through the early part of the season.
Vancaeyezeele, 27, started in four matches and appeared in eight league matches for Birmingham this year. He joined the club in July of last year in a transfer from San Diego Loyal SC and became a regular fixture in the lineup, appearing in 21 regular season matches for Legion FC to help the club clinch a postseason berth. Vancaeyezeele also represented French Guiana during last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying matches. French Guiana made it to the final round of qualification before falling to Trinidad and Tobago in a penalty shootout, with Vancaeyezeele playing the full match and converting his penalty attempt.
The Rowdies have had to make do with limited options in the back since center back Robert Castellanos suffered a fractured ankle 12 minutes into the club’s season opener in March while on loan from Major League Soccer’s Nashville SC. Castellanos has since returned to Nashville to rehab from his injury but could still return to Tampa Bay at a later date.
“Thomas is a player we’re very familiar with,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “He’s been in the Eastern Conference for a large part of his career and I feel we’ve been a little bit short with a couple of the injuries we’ve had. Thomas will certainly help address that but also, in the long term, he’s a very versatile player that can play all across the back three and he can play in midfield. All around he’s just a good footballer who knows his way around this league. It’s been very difficult to find a player that makes us better and I think Thomas does that.”
Prior to his time in Birmingham and San Diego, Vancaeyezeele was an integral piece for Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. In three seasons with Pittsburgh, Vancaeyezeele led the club in interceptions while making 88 appearances overall. He also led the team in minutes in the 2018 and 2020 seasons. Vancaeyezeele earned league-wide recognition during his time in Pittsburgh as well, with a 2019 All-League Second Team selection and 2020 All-League First Team selection.
While in Pittsburgh, Vancaeyezeele was teammates with Rowdies forward Steevan Dos Santos.
“When you’re signing a player, there’s a lot of factors to it and one of them is how he is as a teammate,” said Collins. “Steevan has played with him, speaks very highly of him, and says he fits very well with our values so that’s important. We already know he’s a good player because he’s proven that. He’s fit in well. One of the biggest things, when you make a signing at this point in the season is their fitness. There are free agents out there, but they’ve not played in a long time or trained, whereas Thomas has played games for Birmingham and he’s trained. He’s fitted in well and he looks ready to go.”
Born in Caen, France, Vancaeyezeele came to the United States in 2015 to play college soccer at the University of Charleston. In two seasons with Charleston, he made 44 appearances and was voted the NCAA Division II Player of the Year while aiding the team to a national championship title in 2017. While in college, Vancaeyezeele also played for USL League Two sides SW Florida Adrenaline and Mississippi Brilla.
The Rowdies next take the field on the road against FC Tulsa on Wednesday, June 1 at 8:30 pm ET. Following that, the Rowdies return home for a matchup with last year’s Eastern Conference Championship Final runner up Louisville City FC on Saturday, June 4 at 7:30 pm ET. Tickets for the match can be purchased here or by calling the Rowdies ticket office at 727-222-2000.