ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (December 27, 2017) — It’s been nearly two full months since the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ 2017 season ended with an extra time loss to the New York Red Bulls II, but Neill Collins still isn’t quite over it.
Tampa Bay’s postseason elimination came in a match the Rowdies led before a second-half penalty kick gave the Red Bulls new life. The Rowdies fell behind early into the 30 extra minutes but saw chance after chance to equalize denied in a bitter end to the season.
After such a brutal exit, Collins, the Rowdies’ dependable center back, still hasn’t quite made it to the acceptance stage of grief, but he gets closer every day.
“After probably about a month, you stop thinking about it every day, but when people bring it up, it still brings back bad memories and bad feelings,” he said. “I suppose the one thing that’s a very, very small consolation is that on the night, we played pretty well and on any other night, we would have won that game. It was such a cruel way to lose. I guess that’s the thing with playoffs, is that you need more than just a performance. You need a bit of luck as well.”
Collins, along with eight of his teammates from the 2017 Rowdies roster, has already been confirmed to return for another go next season. More returning players, and several new additions, have already been signed and will be announced beginning next week.
“I’ve been privy to know of our new signings and I’m really pleased with the additions the Rowdies have already made this offseason,” Collins said. “I think one of the things we learned last year is that you can never really have too much of the pace, enthusiasm and energy that some of the young players around the league bring. We saw it last year with Alex Morrell, he was fantastic, and other young guys like Zac Portillos. We’ve got players that will fit the same kind of profile as those two guys with their pace and energy and then you add the experience we’ve got in other players and it’s a recipe for success.”
The idle time of the offseason has allowed Collins to put some critical thinking and analysis into last year’s successes and shortcomings and he’s identified two more things he believes the Rowdies learned last season that will come in handy in 2018.
First, he’s proud of the Rowdies’ dominant home record, losing just once in regulation in 18 matches at Al Lang Stadium. He thinks the returning players have distilled the right mindset to have at home and will be able to teach the new members of the team how to sustain that success.
Second, he thinks Tampa Bay unlocked the key to strong road performances late in the year and cited wins in Harrisburg and Orlando, plus an impressive result in San Antonio, as a reason to believe the Rowdies will have a much better record away from home next season.
Not having training or team activities in the offseason doesn’t mean Collins hasn’t been busy, though.
When he’s not writing new posts for his blog, A Journeyman’s View, golfing, or chasing around any of his four children, Collins has been occupied running a youth soccer camp in the Sarasota area.
“I’ve been doing some coaching in the area, which has been really great,” he said. “It keeps me out on the field and keeps my head in the game. I coach six to eight year olds in the morning and then nine to 11 year olds in the afternoon. They’re pretty young, but it’s really fun. They are kids that just want to have fun and love playing soccer. It’s been great.”