ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (April 1, 2019) – After posting three clean sheets in four matches to start the season, the Tampa Bay Rowdies are ready to try something new.
Rowdies center back Pape Diakite has begun training as a goalkeeper to give the Rowdies a little more tactical flexibility in select matches. If all goes as planned, Diakite will wear the gloves and goalkeeper jersey as the designated goalkeeper, giving Head Coach Neill Collins an extra outfield player to outnumber opponents in midfield.
The move is a gamble, but follows the Tampa Bay Rowdies organizational goals of being on the cutting-edge of the game.
In 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays revolutionized baseball with the debut of “the opener” in lieu of a traditional starting pitcher in some games. The Rowdies feel, with the backing of their partner team, that soccer is ripe for a similar revolution.
Pape Diakite making an unofficial save against the Montreal Impact earlier this year.
“The goalkeeper position is one that is really evolving right now and we think there’s an opportunity to be ahead of the curve on this," Rowdies Chief Operating Officer Lee Cohen said. "It may seem crazy now, but we think within the next three seasons, more teams will be taking this avenue and referring to us as the team that really started this movement.”
The uptick in so-called sweeper keepers that spend as much time outside the 18-yard box playing with their feet as inside the box is proof positive that the game is changing and traditional goalkeeping skill can come second to the ability to contribute in other areas.
Through four games, the Rowdies lead the league in clean sheets (3) and goals conceded (1.) Tampa Bay has only allowed five shots on goal all season, the fewest in the league.
Diakite was selected for this experiment for both his size, 6-foot-6, and one-on-one defending ability. Head Coach Neill Collins feels that Diakite will be an even more dominant presence on defensive set pieces with the ability to use his hands.
“With my background in the U.K., I’m about as traditional as they come in terms of how to play the game,” Collins said. “But the analytics teams have made a really compelling case that this is a viable option for us in home games. I’ve been speaking with a few of my colleagues back in England and they think we’re a little crazy, but only time will tell.”
As for how he enjoys the new challenge, Diakite said his early sessions with Rowdies Goalkeeper Coach Stuart Dobson have been positive.
“It’s been interesting so far,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how serious they were at first, but I’ve been working with Stuart for a couple of weeks now and it’s been great. I enjoy getting to outjump everybody and use my hands on corner kicks. That’s been really fun.”