The one major critique against the Tampa Bay Rowdies MLS hopes were up until today that the Rowdies didn’t have a vertical youth system with a USSF Development Academy tie like so many other MLS aspirants and every current MLS club. The Rowdies in the wild-wild west of NASL where youth development and local infrastructure was often de-emphasized in favor of splashy headlines and controversial quotes were under no pressure to work with local youth soccer leaders. But the moment the Rowdies switched affiliation to more development-oriented USL and sought an MLS ticket, the club had to become a more complete top-to-bottom entity from the youth level to the senior team.
Today the Rowdies announced a partnership with Tampa Bay United who significantly have also Charlie Slagle in their leadership – Slagle is one of the most respected youth soccer administrators in the country and his presence in the Rowdies family will no doubt enhance the club’s MLS hopes. The Rowdies official release is below.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 20, 2017) — The two largest soccer presences in Tampa Bay have come together, marking a significant moment for the future of the world’s game right here at home with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tampa Bay United announcing a milestone partnership.
Tampa Bay United is the largest youth soccer club in the Tampa Bay area and will rebrand as the TBU Rowdies beginning this season. The TBU Rowdies’ highest-level teams will wear the Rowdies’ familiar green and gold hooped jerseys on the field, expanding the visibility of the Rowdies throughout the region.
This partnership brings into focus the Rowdies’ goal of being the backbone of soccer in the Tampa Bay community and developing elite players both through the US Soccer Development Academy on the boys’ side and the Elite Clubs National League on the girls’ side.
“Over the last several years, the Rowdies’ focus has been to create a successful business model for both the first team players on the field and the stadium experience for the fans,” Rowdies COO Lee Cohen said. “We feel as if we are now prepared to focus on the next steps of our soccer evolution in the Tampa Bay Area. Partnering with TBU and making that club part of our family as the TBU Rowdies was, in our minds, the most logical next step.”
The TBU Rowdies are sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation as an official Boys Development Academy club, meaning TBU Rowdies teams compete at the highest level for their age groups. The Boys Development Academy clubs receive direction directly from the United States Soccer Federation on training regimens and environments to ensure the highest quality.
“We are honored to be working with such a highly esteemed team,” said Tampa Bay United CEO Charlie Slagle. “The value they bring in terms of expertise and opportunities supports our mission of developing youth talent as a long-term goal. It is not about winning one game, it is about developing what you need each year to continue for the long haul. Last year, we had a record number of TBU players sign on to play at the collegiate level, and this affiliation enhances our ability to be the top level club for youth soccer in the state of Florida.”
Heading the collaboration between the Rowdies and TBU is Keith Fulk, a pillar of the Tampa Bay soccer community. Fulk has been a part of three national championship teams at the University of Tampa, as a player in 1981, as an assistant coach in 1994 and as head coach in 2001. He spent the last six seasons as head coach at St. Leo University, leading the Lions to two Sunshine State Conference championships. He previously spent eight years as an assistant coach for the United States Under-17 national team, including four FIFA Youth World Cups.
“TBU has a long history of great success on the field in this market,” Cohen said. “The addition of Charlie Slagle to the TBU leadership and the successful model he created at CASL (Capital Area Soccer League, Raleigh, N.C.) made this opportunity extremely attractive. Adding Keith Fulk to the mix solidified this partnership. There are not two better guys that we can be working with to help our club achieve its goals both on and off the field in the youth development landscape.”
The partnership with TBU is yet another positive step towards bringing Major League Soccer to Tampa Bay. By coming together, the Rowdies and TBU have established a defined path from youth soccer to professional soccer and secured the future of the game in Tampa Bay for years to come. With the addition of the Rowdies U23 team, which will compete in the fully-amateur USL PDL beginning in May, the path from youth soccer to the Rowdies’ professional team is now complete.