ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (June 14, 2017) — For Keith Savage, nothing has ever been promised.
The veteran Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder has had to fight for every minute of playing he’s ever received in his career, from college all the way to today.
“I get tested every single year,” Savage said. “I’ve never been a guaranteed starter in my entire career.”
Make no mistake, though. Savage isn’t complaining.
He’s grateful for the trials he’s faced and the work he’s had to put in. Perhaps that’s why it’s so rewarding to see Savage making his mark on the field, for teammates, fans and Savage himself.
“It’s great for me,” Savage said. “It’s wonderful to be in a position where you know you have to work hard and improve every year. I look back to college and my first years as a pro and I’m so much better now because of how hard I’ve had to work and how hard my teammates and coaches have pushed me.”
Savage, 31, has played for the Rowdies since 2011. He’s the club’s second-leading appearance maker in the Modern Era, suiting up in the green and gold 124 times. His tenure in Tampa Bay hasn’t always been easy. At the end of the 2014 season, Savage was released into free agency. He wasn’t offered a contract by new Head Coach Thomas Rongen and went to Jacksonville for a trial with the Armada.
Eventually, Rongen offered Savage a new contract, which he quickly accepted. In the span of one offseason, Savage went from released to re-signed to opening day starter, selected by Rongen to start in Tampa Bay’s first match of the season in San Antonio.
Just 30 minutes into the match, Savage suffered a season-ending torn ACL, but he’s not stranger to adversity. He put his head down and kept working and made his way back onto the field stronger than ever.
In 2016, Savage had to wait until July 16 to make his first start of the season, but by year’s end, he had appeared in 16 matches and become an important player in the center of the field once again.
This year, Savage has had to be patient once again.
He didn’t make his 2017 debut until May 16, but has appeared in five of seven matches since then. His cameo off the bench against Charlotte on June 4 led to a goal, his 17th for the Rowdies, good for fourth-most in the Modern Era.
While he’s every bit as skilled as the best of his teammates, Savage’s game isn’t as flashy as some others. His game is understated, but effective.
“It’s a blessing being back in the team,” Savage said. “I love being able to step out on the field and be able to play in front of our fans.”
Savage made his second USL start on Saturday night against Rochester, controlling the tone of the match for his 75 minutes on the field. He completed 75 passes at an eye-popping rate of 90.7 percent.
“(My success) comes from playing next to (Michael Nanchoff), playing in front of Damion (Lowe) and Neill (Collins), playing behind Joe (Cole) and with all the technically-gifted players we have in our team,” Savage said. “I’ve got guys that are good on the ball all around me, so I can always be confident giving them the ball and I think they’re confident giving me the ball.”
Still, the team didn’t win, being held to a 1-1 draw by the Rochester Rhinos, so Savage isn’t satisfied.
Georgi Hristov is the only player to appear in more matches than Savage in the Modern Era. The two have been teammates since 2013 and Hristov has nothing but compliments to pay Savage for his professionalism and skill on and off the field.
“Playing as a forward in front of him, Keith is a guy I always want behind me because I know he’ll always be there and he works hard,” Hristov said. “I’ve never doubted Keith. I always know that even if he hasn’t been playing much, he just works so hard in training that he’ll come in and do great, like he’s been playing every game.”
Savage figures to retain his place in the team when the Rowdies visit the Richmond Kickers on Saturday night, but if he isn’t named in the starting lineup, rest assured that Keith Savage won’t keep his head down for too long. He’ll simply get back to work.