Today the Rowdies depart for an 11 day preseason training trip to Portugal, the modern incarnation of the club’s first time ever training outside of North America. This is a big moment for this 2015 squad, but also for the franchise moving forward into the new era that owner Bill Edwards has promised.
When Rowdies President and General Manager Farrukh Quraishi assumed his duties he made a point of emphasizing that they want to make this club a globally recognized brand. He sensibly elaborated that you first achieve that by “owning your own backyard through winning as many competitions as possible within your region. On top of that though, occasionally leaving your continent can’t hurt when trying to get the word out about who you are and what kind of organization you aspire to be. Minnesota United drastically improved their profile abroad during their trip to England and formed connections that lead to hosting a Summer friendly against Premier League Swansea City. A club that big coming to town drew a large crowd at Minnesota’s home venue, presumably full of people checking out a Loon game for the first time. So a trip abroad can even possibly lead to profile increase for the Rowdies in their home market.
The benefits on the field are a more straight forward. There has been so much turnover on the roster this offseason that the Rowdies are essentially an expansion franchise. Of the 23 players listed on the official roster, 7 are returning players. Of those 7, only 2 have played more than one season in Tampa Bay. And of course Corey Hertzog was a very late season addition, signing in September. These guys need to get to know each other, both on the field and in the locker room. Removing distractions by uprooting the team and moving them across the Atlantic Ocean for two weeks is a great way to speed up that process. Rooming together eating every meal of the day together are terrific ways to build cohesion. With so few games in the Spring season the teams with the best chemistry stand to benefit immensely.
Eliminating distractions on a preseason trip can also go a long way toward the development of young players. 10 players, nearly half of the Rowdies roster, are under 25 years old. 5 of them are first time professionals. The ability of the technical staff to constantly observe and communicate with these young players can potentially work wonders. Having spent a significant chunk of the last 15 years coaching the US U-20 team or working in youth academies, Thomas Rongen truly seems to relish the chance to mold young players into young professionals.
Along with guidance from the technical staff the young Rowdies could greatly benefit from watching how the more seasoned guys carry themselves on a trip like this. They can learn how to conduct themselves on the training field and in team meetings. They can observe how the veterans deal with an intense schedule of 4 games in 10 days. At 21 keeper Chris Glodack can follow the lead of 32-year-old Matt Pickens and 36-year-old Kamil Čontofalský. That age difference comes with loads of experience in North America (Pickens) and throughout Europe (Čontofalský). Darwin Espinal, 20, coming straight out of junior college can look to an NASL MVP in Gerorgi Hristov, a NASL Golden Boot winner in Brian Shriver. First time pro Zac Portillos can lean on Tamika Mkandawire’s example and leadership if need be as he makes the transition from midfield to left back. The roster is heavy on youth but there is enough experience peppered in to form a strong unit after surviving this self-imposed exile on the Iberian Peninsula.
The type of players the team will be going up against in Portugal will obviously be at a higher level than what they Rowdies have usually faced in the preseason. Playing local colleges throughout the Tampa Bay area has its advantages, but when you’re looking to ready yourself for the challenge of a professional season, looking outside of college soccer for opponents becomes necessary. Some of the teams that the Rowdies will face on this trip will likely showcase some styles and tendencies that Rongen will be trying to implement himself this season. So these exhibitions can even be instructional by just absorbing aspects of the competition’s game.
Really the only bad part about this Portugal trip is that the fans can’t absorb any of the action themselves through streams. Be sure to connect with all the different Rowdies social media outlets to stay up to date on every detail. The @RowdiesGameday account on Twitter will likely be your best bet for up to the minute action for the games. All games are scheduled to kick off at 5:30 am Tampa Bay time.
- Sunday March 1 – Fatima CD
- Tuesday March 3 – Benfica U-20 (Benfica senior players will also be available for selection)
- Wednesday March 4 – Sporting CP
- Friday March 6 – Alcanenense