ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 11, 2018) — It’s been a long year of twists and turns for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but the team knows that Sunday’s match in Pennsylvania against Bethlehem Steel FC will be their final chance to play in 2018.
Results around the USL last weekend made certain that the Rowdies would miss the playoffs, making their season finale in Bethlehem a lame duck.
It matters for Bethlehem, though, with Steel FC sitting precariously in eighth place, so the Rowdies have an obligation to play the right way and try to finish the season with a small bit of momentum.
“We’re definitely disappointed, but we take a lot of pride in professionalism,” forward Sebastian Guenzatti said. “The guys came in to training after a big loss and everyone had the right attitude. I think we’re ready to play in Bethlehem despite the disappointment of not qualifying for the playoffs. We have to move forward and hope for more.”
Beyond that professional pride, they just don’t want to have to stop playing games. It’s been seven months since the season kicked off, and closer to nine months since preseason camp opened, but once the final whistle blows Sunday, there’s no more competitive soccer to play for months.
“It’s always sad when you play your last game of the season,” Guenzatti said. “It goes by so fast for us players that all you want to do is keep playing, but you can’t. We’re going to be ready for next season even stronger.”
The 2018 season was a tumultuous one for the Rowdies on the field. While the positive momentum of the club overall was maintained, change in the locker room was a main theme.
Just nine matches into the season, the Rowdies had lost a pair of right backs to early season-ending injuries with David Najem and Kyle Curinga both missing most of the season.
Tampa Bay underwent a coaching chance in May after losing four consecutive matches, including an early ouster from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Two players were loaned out, two more released. Three more retired, including Neill Collins, who served as Rowdies captain less than 48 hours before retiring to become Tampa Bay’s head coach.
Ten players were signed after the start of the season, starting with Leon Taylor on April 5 and ending with Jaime Chavez on September 14.
The Rowdies went through an offseason’s equivalent of roster changes in the middle of their season, forced to try and gel during competitive matches, rather than preseason friendlies.
“We fell short and it’s been a tough season,” Guenzatti said. “Lots of ups and downs, we finished the year with basically a brand new team from the one we started with. It’s definitely been a crazy year.”
For better or worse, the crazy year ends Sunday in Bethlehem. Come Monday morning, the Rowdies will turn the page and begin preparations for the 2019 season.