by JAKE NUTTING
On Friday night, Tampa Bay Rowdies captain Sebastian Guenzatti will in all likelihood make his 77th appearance for the Green and Gold when the club hosts the Charleston Battery.
On the same day in 2017, the Rowdies officially announced the signing of Guenzatti, who up until that point was best known to Rowdies supporters as a regular thorn in the club’s side as a longtime contributor to the rival New York Cosmos. Now he’s one of the longest tenured and most beloved members of the Rowdies.
“I really can’t believe it’s already been that long. For me the time has really flown by. Everything that’s happened for me in these last few years has been amazing,” Guenzatti told Unused Substitutes. “I take every day like it was my first day here, giving my all in practice and always trying to do the right things. Since I’ve been here I think I’ve given my all. That’s why I’m in the position I am today.”
Guenzatti came to the Rowdies midway through 2017 after suffering one of the worst setbacks a player can face. A month before the end of the Cosmos’ 2016 season, he ruptured his ACL at Ottawa Fury FC, putting him on a long road to recovery.
Nearly a year later, Guenzatti returned to the field for the first time as a substitute against the Ottawa at Al Lang. He had earned his contract with the Rowdies at the end of July following a week of training with the club.
“I’m a strong-minded person and I was gonna do whatever it took for me to play, at any level really. I just wanted to come back somewhere and start,” he said. “A lot of people with that kind of injury can get off track but I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to come back as strong as I can. At the end of my recovery I said I’m gonna give it all. I have nothing to lose but getting hurt again. I was never afraid of getting hurt or anything like that. When you put your mind to something and all of your will toward it, good things come out.”
Guenzatti quickly became a frequent option off the bench for then Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell in the final months of the 2017 season and into 2018. However, he’s truly flourished as a mainstay for Neill Collins since the former Rowdies defender took on coaching duties in May of 2018.
Collins made a bold move in deciding to not bring back club legend Georgi Hristov ahead of the 2019 season. Many wondered where the goals were going to come from without the Bulgarian forward on board. After splitting time in the midfield and up top, Guenzatti rold Collins he wanted to move to the fulltime striker role role and take on the responsibility.
On his relationship with Collins Guenzatti said, “I was always a hard worker. I always did what the coach was expecting. But with Neill, he has this understanding with me. He respects the way I think about the game. We think alike. We’re very passionate and we always want to get better. Since he’s come in he’s given me all the confidence.”
Guenzatti more than did his part to fill the attacking void by recording a new Rowdies single-season scoring record of 19 goals last year.
“Seba’s so reliable,” Collins said. “When you’re a coach and you can’t effect the game on the field by playing you try and cut out as much doubt as you possibly can. Someone like Seba does that because you know what he’s going to do on the field and what he’s going to do off the field. You know he’s going to turn up for training and he’s going to train as if his life depended on it. So that sets the standard straight away for the team around him.”
Guenzatti also took on the role of club captain last year, something he didn’t ask for but was happy to embrace.
“As the captain you want to set the tone however you can,” he said. “The way I play and how hard I go every game is how I set the tone and get everyone into the game. There’s also a lot of responsibility that comes with that. I look at is as a way for me to get better and keep learning, because everyday as a captain you’re gonna have to learn new things, even from the young guys. I try to soak in as much as I can for the future.”
It took a little longer than expected thanks to the season being halted for four months due to the coronavirus, but Guenzatti finally got his first two tallies of the year in Tampa Bay’s last two outings. Midfielder Leo Fernandes is one ahead of Guenzatti with three goals through the first four matches.
Fernadnes and Guenzatti are close friends and are now the Rowdies players that have been in the locker room for the longest. Fernandes beat Guenzatti to Tampa Bay by a few months as he signed at the start of 2017, but both are even in appearances heading into Friday’s match.
“Leo is an amazing professional. There’s no coincidence why he’s been here the longest. As players come and go, he always does the right things,” Guenzatti noted. “He’s so hot right now that anything he touches just goes in. Every day he shows up to work like it’s his last practice, his last game. It shows on the weekend with just how easy he makes it look. He goes with the flow and doesn’t kill himself. He knows exactly what to do.”
Guenzatti and Fernandes are only 29 and 28 respectively, so they still have many prime years left of soccer to play. That’s many potential seasons to hopefully smash some more records and bring a championship back to Tampa Bay.
“We look at these players from my times as a player and a coach, and players from the past — Seba will hopefully go down alongside with these guys for what he’s done,” Collins said. “And he’s got a lot more to do. I think he’s everything this club is about.”