The 2020 Tampa Bay Rowdies were one more win away from becoming just the third squad in Rowdies history to capture a league title. They weren’t denied that ultimate prize by the Western Conference’s winners Phoenix Rising FC, though. Instead they fell short of their goal when several positive COVID-19 test results within the Rowdies organization a few days before the decisive match caused the league to cancel the match entirely.
It’s one thing to lose a championship final. No one wants to be that team, but it’s not suprise or shock. Someone has to be on the losing end, after all. However, it’s another kind of disappointment entirely to have the opportunity to even get on the field taken away from you less than 48 hours before kickoff.
A few months later and Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins admitted in an interview with Unused Substitutes that, while he still maintains a positive outlook on the 2020 season as a whole, the sting of missing out on the championship final has stuck with him.
“Despite the disappointment that will always live with me from that weekend of the final being canceled, and all the emotion that the people involved showed with their disappointment — equally, what came out of all of that was just how much we’d all put in, the effort we’d all put in,” Collins said. “Ultimately I look back with very fond memories, just from the fact that we were able to take home some silverware and I feel take one step closer to where we want this club to be.”
Collins has a point. Even with the canceled championship final, 2020 was still a season worth remembering for many reasons. After nearly a decade of falling short of expectations and even a few years of missing the postseason entirely, the club won its first trophy since 2012 by knocking off Louisville City in the Eastern Conference Final. And they achieved that while arguably playing the best soccer anyone has ever seen the Rowdies play in the modern era, which hopefully is an indictaion that supporters can expect more success in the years to come.
In a unique and incredibly tough year, the Rowdies met the moment and excelled in so many ways.
“2020 will be a lot of mixed emotions for a lot of people. For some people it won’t be mixed,” Collins said. “Some people will look back on it and not have any good memories at all. For myself, I’ll look back at 2020 and really enjoy the fact that despite all the adversity that we all had to face we were able to win a trophy for the first time in a long time. And along the way to that trophy we gave ourselves, the fans, the club some great moments and did some things that I really wanted to achieve. I mean, small goals but winning in New York, winning in Miami, winning in Louisville — places that we’d never won certainly in my time here as a player and coach. Just working, honestly, with the group of players and staff that we had amidst all the controversy that we had. Those will always be great memories. Great group of people.”
Photo by Patrick Patterson/Unused Substitutes