ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (August 9, 2017) — In the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ recent winning streak, a calming presence has emerged in the middle of the field, doing the dirty work and allowing those around him to do the flashy things.
The Rowdies’ nascent 4-3-3 formation has included three-time Premier League champion Joe Cole and Bundesliga champion Marcel Schäfer in the midfield, but the key to it all might be just Justin Chavez, a 27-year old Oklahoma City native that goes about his work quietly.
In the Rowdies’ three wins — in which the team scored seven goals and conceded zero — Chavez has been steady. In Saturday night’s 3-0 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders, he posted three interceptions while completing 50 of his 52 passes, good for 96.2 percent.
“It feels really good because I’ve put a lot of hard work and dedication into it,” Chavez said. “There are a lot of guys here that can play at an elite level, so it’s not easy to get into the team. Every single position group right now is doing their part and playing their role. My focus is to win the ball and then not lose the ball. As long as I’m doing my part and everyone else does theirs, we can click and achieve things together.”
Marcel Schäfer, liberated by the knowledge that Chavez is nearby to clean up any issues in the midfield if the Rowdies lose possession, has been able to turn his attention toward attacking. He had two assists Saturday night.
“Justin has been having excellent performances,” Schäfer said. “He’s really important for the team. He’s a big leader in the center of our midfield and he makes nearly no mistakes. He may not get goals or assists or things like that, but he’s a great, great player that plays his role in our system. He always supports me and has my back on the field.”
Since returning to the starting lineup after a toe injury sidelined him for the better part of two months, Chavez has been the oil that keeps the Rowdies running, but it’s not even the first time this season he’s become an impact starter.
After a 3-2 loss to the Charleston Battery on April 22, Chavez was given his second start of the year for a match against Richmond, his first of four consecutive starts. The Rowdies were unbeaten in those four matches, picking up 10 of 12 available points with three wins and a draw.
Then, just 24 minutes into a match against Toronto FC II on May 19, Chavez suffered a toe injury that sidelined him for the next games. In those eight games, the Rowdies won just once. Chavez said it was tough to watch without being able to help.
Since recovering and being restored to the starting lineup, Chavez has helped Tampa Bay to three wins in three games.
“I just want to do my job,” Chavez said. “As long as we keep a clean sheet I’m happy. I’m part of the back five as a midfielder and I let the front five do their thing. It’s their job to be creative and get forward and just leave the defensive stuff to me. My job is to do the dirty work and let others create.”