With our picks for goalkeeper (read those here) and defenders (check those out here) in the rearview, it’s time to select our midfielder for Best XI of the decade. Finding the right balance in a midfield is tough. There are plenty of obvious creative attackers to go with, but you don’t want to lose sight of those who did the dirty work of maintaining the spine of the squad on the field and didn’t get all the credit for it.
Joe Cole, Leo Fernandes, Marcel Schäfer, Luke Mullholland: Yeah, these four aren’t necessarily in their ideal positions, but I had to get them all on the field at once. Compared to Joe Cole, Marcel Schäfer wasn’t the bigger of the names from Europe when he arrived, but he’s the one with the greatest impact. That isn’t meant to diminish what Joe did, because he was important as well. Leo Fernandes is closing in on 100 appearances and more than earning each one. Luke Mulholland played the game with a swagger and style that reminded some of the original Rowdies.
Dominic Oduro, Luke Mulholland, Joe Cole: In the midfield, Dom Oduro has to be the best number six the Rowdies have had in the modern era. The guy makes tackles all over the pitch. Luke Mulholland’s skill, creativity, and contribution to the championship season get him the spot. Joe Cole had a lot to prove when he arrived and did so with some excellent displays while helping to revitalize the Rowdies.
Pascal Millien, Keith Savage, Joe Cole, Luke Mulholland: Midfield is where the toughest choices have to be made. Pascal Millien was undoubtedly a fan favorite, but his creative genius was also truly rousing. He was one of a few players that could single handedly take the ball and turn a game on its head. Not with blind pace or goal scoring, but with a vision that transcended the level of play in D2 soccer. Luke Mulholland was the full package. Goals, assists, creativity, and a flair for the dramatic celebration. Luke will always be a legend here. Keith Savage was an anchor as a defensive midfielder for 7 seasons, covering 134 games. He has a Soccer Bowl ring to prove his contributions and, while not flashy, was a leader in the clubhouse for the better part of this decade. Joe Cole on the other hand was pretty darn flashy. No trophies to show for his time in Tampa Bay, but plenty of goals and assists. His tired legs got the better of him towards the end, but there is no doubt he was a much-needed shot of energy on the field.
Keith Savage, Takuya Yamada, Luke Mulholland, Joe Cole, Leo Fernandes: If you know me, you know I couldn’t leave Takuya Yamada off my list. He’s the first Rowdies player I ever latched onto. Without him, maybe I’m not as diehard a fan as I am today. There was just something about the way he carried himself on the field. One of the best tactially aware and most versaitile players of the decade, but his pinpoint passing accuracy is also a bit underrated because he’s mostly viewed as a defender. I’d proudly field Yamada alongside Keith Savage in midfield, another player with an accute passing ability and an instinct to be in the right spot at the right time. Neither player were the most athletic during their time in Tampa Bay, but maybe no two players maximized their what they had to work with better than them.
My trio of more attack-minded midfielders is genuinely one I wish we could’ve seen at Al Lang. Leo Fernandes has grown into into a mature, creative spark for the club along the left side in recent years. It really is a shame we only got two years of Luke Mulholland as a Rowdie. What we got from just that was memorable goals, assists, a champiponship, and a guy who played with the personality and heart of a Rowdie from the old NASL days. I admit to being a Joe Cole skeptic when he signed. That skepticism waned after my first interview with him and it completely dissappeared when I saw him play. He immediately showed he had plenty to offer on a technical level, as a leader for younger players, and that he’d take every Rowdies game as seriously as game he played in England. Even in the late stages of his career, Cole was a constant threat other teams had to plan for.
Did we get it right? Did we massively muck it up? Don’t hold back and give your choices for the top midfielders of the decade.
Tomorrow we close things out on the site with our picks for forwards, bench selections and honorable mentions.