The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced Thursday that the club has elected not to field teams in the upcoming USL League Two and WPSL seasons and will evaluate whether to continue with the intiatives at a later date.
Early last year the Rowdies announced the formation of the Rowdies U23s and Rowdies Women to play in USL League Two and the WPSL but that was put on hold when both leagues canceled their seasons due to the global pandemic.
In their statement the Rowdies said the following:
“Due to the many uncertainties surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Rowdies have made the difficult decision to suspend the USL2 and the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) programs for the 2021 season. The Rowdies plan to reevaluate these programs for 2022.”
Last year’s plan was for former Rowdies defender and current Chargers SC Academy coach Andres Arango to lead the U23s as head coach. The WPSL side would have been led by Don Tobin, who played for the Rowdies in the 1980s and serves as Director of Coaching at Pinellas County United SC. The programs were intended to be part of the Rowdies Youth Network, which is meant to give development opportunities and a pathway to the professional ranks for local talent.
The Rowdies arent getting out of development altogether, though. The club also annouced that it will still take part in the newly formed USL Academy this year, but at a “limited capacity.”
Shortly before the announcement of the suspension, Unused Substitutes asked Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins about the future of the U23s and if the team would play in 2021. At the time Collins avoided giving a definitive answer but now we know the decision has already been made and his response indicates how the pandemic has potentially set the club back in some respects.
“I think it’s gonna be difficult,” Collins said. “Where we were at pre-Covid was in a fantastic situation. I think behind the scenes the club had done such a great job of giving our fans this exciting new environment with the new safe standing section and lower ticket prices. I really feel we were geared up to have a great experience at Al Lang. We’ve already had a great experience, but (the changes) would’ve made for an even better one. Now we’re all back to post-COVID and we’re all licking our wounds and trying to find what the future’s gonna look like.
“We are still wanting to be a big part of the community. We are still wanting to have this pathway and we are working through right now what that pathway looks like so that we can get the best talent in the area opportunities, and we are working on that. Whether that involves a U23 team this year we don’t know. We do think we’ll have involvement in the USL Academy, which will involve 4-6 games with some of the best talent in the area, which will be exciting. We’re working through things all the time. Everything’s done with the long-term in mind, not just the short-term.”
Collins also noted that the Rowdies intend on hosting another open tryout for talent in the area this offseason as they have in recent years. An announcement for the date of that event will be coming soon.