by JAKE NUTTING
The Tampa Bay Rowdies have received some backing in their effort to earn an expansion spot in Major League Soccer from someone well acquainted with the league’s first foray into the market in the mid 1990s
Former Tampa Bay Mutiny star and current San Jose Earth Quakes assistant coach Steve Ralston voiced his support for the Rowides MLS push in a recent interview with Jason Davis on SiriusXM FC.
Having represented the Mutiny in all six seasons of their stint in MLS from 1996 to 2001, Ralston is in a unique position to speak on the viability of the area getting another shot in the top division.
“I thought it had ups and downs,” Ralston told Davis. “We had some great crowds, we had a great fanbase and the loyal ones who showed up all the time. There’s a lot to do in Florida and Tampa and it’s a new league and a new sport and we struggled at times, but I think it’s different now. If they were to get a MLS team I think it would survive and I think it would do well. I think where we are as a league, and if you look at the markets and the cities and everyone wanting a piece of it, I think [Tampa Bay] would do well and I’m hoping they get another opportunity.”
The Mutiny came out of the gate strong in 1996, claiming the league’s Supporters’ Shield and averaging 11,679 in the the stands at Tampa Stadium. Like many MLS markets, though, the Mutiny’s attendance began to dip five years in and the axe finally came down after the 2001 season when MLS failed to secure local ownership for the team.
This time around, Tampa Bay has the local owner willing to invest in Bill Edwards, but Ralston believes the history and recognition that comes a long with the Rowdies name should also go along way toward getting more fans engaged in an MLS team.
“Well, I think the Rowdies have us,” he said. “They were there a lot longer than we were, they were there first and I think that name has more appeal in the city. When we came there as the Mutiny, everyone still talked about the Kick in the Grass and the whole Rowdies thing, so I think they’ve got us in the naming rights.”
Ralston’s perspective is a common one. Many involved with the Mutiny mention the lasting impact the Rowdies had in the area even after the glory days of the original NASL had come and gone. Unlike many of the teams from the NASL, the Rowdies name stayed alive in one form or another in various leagues until 1993.
The fact that the Mutiny were living in the shadow of the Rowdies was something Ralston was well aware of. In his 177 appearances for the Mutiny, Ralston earned plenty of respect with the fans and even won individual hardware with Rookie of the Year honors in the team’s debut season. However, he admits guys like Rodney Marsh and others were in a league of their own.
“Those guys, they were kings, they were big, they were outdrawing the Buccaneers probably back in those days. Well, the Bucs weren’t a very good team then, but I think the Rowdies had really implanted themselves in the community and were drawing very well and were a big deal. And those guys, a lot of them stayed in the area and that’s a big part of it as well.”