by JAKE NUTTING
Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell certainly sounds like someone who is enjoying the tall task of preparing a prepping a professional soccer team for a full slate of matches in 2016.
His perspective is likely influenced by the fact that this is his first time experiencing a full offseason in the driver’s seat. Up until this offseason, Campbell only had the coaching reins thrust into his hands while taking over for sacked coaches midway through a campaign, first at Bristol Rovers in 2011 and then last year in August when the Rowdies took a nosedive in the Fall Season.
“It’s certainly been a very busy offseason, but it’s been good. It’s been enjoyable, not just for me but for the rest of the technical staff,” Campbell says of the new experience.
With a vote of confidence from the front office by removing the interim during last season, Campbell has been free to identify the kind of players that suit his preferences and pick his own technical staff.
“Before the season had even finished last year we identified a couple of key players, some key positions that we felt we needed to strengthen ourselves. I, along with the technical staff, believe we’ve done that.”
So far the Rowdies have added eight players that were not with the team last year in preparation for the new season, a significant number but nowhere near the massive overhaul that the club experienced under Thomas Rongen last year. Campbell has retained around two thirds of last year’s roster in hopes on maintaining some continuity.
“Our main issue [last year] was the final third. We just couldn’t score that final goal. So that was obviously in my thoughts,” admits the Rowdies boss. “But I also wanted to create a little continuity so you’re not overhauling 20 guys every season. Hopefully the longer I’m here, the more successful we are, and then that turnover will drop from ten to maybe two or three every season.”
Along with reducing the turnover rate, Campbell also expects to field a smaller roster compared to last year when the Rowdies carried the largest one in the league. The addition of the NPSL reserve squad, Rowdies 2, affords Campbell and his staff that kind of flexibility with the roster.
“That’s obviously going to be huge for the Rowdies moving forward,” Campbell says of Rowdies 2. “First and foremost, it gets players on the first team who aren’t getting minutes into a competitive environment rather than playing practice games. And ultimately we want to create a conveyor built of players, where every year two or three guys from the NPSL are able to step up to the Rowdies first team.”
The area of the roster that has undergone the most obvious turnover is the midfield as it was one of the areas Campbell identified that needed significant change before last season was over. The club currently has 11 midfielders listed on the official roster. Ex-Silverbacks standout Junior Burgos, ex-Striker Walter Ramirez, Ex-Loon, and ex-Portland Timber Michael Nanchoff are all newcomers to the Rowdies midfield.
With 23 players already signed to the first team, that doesn’t leave much room for more signings if the club hopes to stick with a smaller roster. Campbell refrains from going into specifics, but he does say that he has a few areas in mind where the team might add depth.
“I’ve got an idea where I’d like to improve, but it’s going to depend on the type of player that becomes available. They have to be better than what we already have at the Rowdies. There’s one or two players that I’m keeping an eye on, but I don’t really want to go too much into that at the minute. I don’t want to comment too much until it’s done. And I don’t want to unsettle our players who are working hard to get ready.”
The players are definitely putting the work in this week, and they’ll be doing the same next week. Campbell believes in going hard in the first few weeks of training and he has the team going through double, sometimes triple sessions, in advance of their first preseason match on February 13 against D.C. United.
As much Campbell has enjoyed building up his own team for the first time, he’s even more eager to get into some action next Saturday against a quality opponent.
IMAGE, PATRICK PATTERSON LIFESTYLE PHOTOGRAPHY