ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (February 8, 2018) — Around the Tampa Bay Rowdies locker room, faces both new and familiar are preparing for game action with the Rowdies’ 2018 preseason opener only two days away.
The Rowdies will take on FC Cincinnati at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon at IMG Academy in their first outing of the year. For the 13 returning players on the roster, this preseason has felt like none before. For the 10 new members of the team, the excitement and sense of belonging is growing quickly.
“My first few weeks here have been terrific,” new forward Jochen Graf said after training Thursday. “It’s been a great experience getting here and getting to know the guys. Since I signed, I’ve just been itching to get here and get on the field with this talented group of players. It makes coming in to training every day really enjoyable. Off the field, this is a great place to live and all the new guys are enjoying getting acclimated.”
Every offseason, roster turnover presents a new chemistry equation as newcomers are assimilated into the group of returning players. Add in that the Rowdies opened preseason camp on February 1, later than in seasons past, and it’s been an exciting few weeks around Al Lang Stadium.
With an abbreviated preseason schedule and just eight training sessions on the docket before stepping onto the field against Cincinnati, Rowdies veteran Tamika Mkandawire said the intensity has been high from the very start.
“We usually start in January and we started a little bit later this season, which I think will be really beneficial over the course of the season. Because we started later, the schedule has been more intense. I think it’s good to get the balls out right away and play 11v11. We’ve got a lot of new players and we need to get to know each others games, so it’s good that we got into that quickly.”
More important than the result this weekend, the Rowdies will have a chance to grow as a group in a real game environment.
“I think this game is coming at a good time,” Graf said. “We’re getting to know each other and you can see relationships starting to form on the field and bits and pieces that will be big for us this season. The game is a perfect opportunity to apply some of those things and build together.”
As for how the process of welcoming the new players into Tampa Bay’s club culture is going, all signs look positive. Club captain Joe Cole spoke to the team this week about the significance of representing the Rowdies.
For Graf, it was a welcome message, if not a little redundant.
“We met earlier this week to talk about what it means to be a player at this club, but none of us new guys really needed an education on it. We already knew what representing this club means when we signed because it’s such an iconic place to play. I just can’t wait to get into the kits with everybody and cross the white line and go into our first battle.”
Admission to Saturday’s match is free and open to the public and the game will be streamed live.