ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 29, 2017) — Last weekend’s home opener saw six Tampa Bay Rowdies make their full club debut in a win at a raucous Al Lang Stadium.
Akira Fitzgerald, Damion Lowe, Luke Boden, Marcel Schäfer and Leo Fernandes were all in the starting lineup, while Alex Morrell was late second-half substitute.
Of that group, all but Schäfer had played in preseason matches at Al Lang Stadium or even played there as a member of the visiting team, but playing in a regular season match for the Rowdies is a whole different experience, particularly when it’s in front of an Al Lang Stadium-record crowd.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming to play here,” said goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, who played the previous six seasons with the Carolina RailHawks before signing with the Rowdies in March. “There’s always a good atmosphere, but this past Saturday was a whole new level. The fans were unbelievable, so it was great to get a win and a clean sheet for them.”
The Rowdies ended their preseason schedule with a couple of negative results, so the team hoped for a strong bounce-back performance in last weekend’s game against Orlando City B.
“It was great to get the first win of the season,” midfielder Leo Fernandes said. “It was the breakthrough we were looking for. The energy of the fans carried us through the game.”
The 1-0 win over Orlando City B saw the Rowdies step off on the right foot for their debut United Soccer League season.
Tampa Bay will hope for more of the same as the early stages of the season continue.
“It was our first home game and our first win,” Lowe said. “What more can you ask for? We had a solid performance, the fans came out in numbers and they had our backs. It was a good atmosphere and I really enjoyed it.”
With two more home matches next on the docket — against Toronto FC II this weekend and Ottawa Fury FC on April 8 — before the team hits the road for the first time, the Rowdies have a great opportunity to build momentum.
“We have a favorable schedule with the first three games at home,” Fernandes said. “They won’t be easy games, but they’re winnable and that’s our goal. We want to win each of them and hit the road with nine points in the bag.”
Fitzgerald will hope the upcoming match against TFC II will be as non-taxing as the win over the Lions was, when he faced just one shot on target in the 90 minutes.
“I prefer those kinds of nights,” Fitzgerald said. “I just had to do a little bit of organizing the defenders and clean up a few things here and there. The guys did a great job of controlling the match in front of me and kept everything under control, so it was a great way to make my official debut.”
Tickets to Saturday night’s match against Toronto FC II are available by calling (727) 222-2000 or by clicking here.