The real winner? It’s the MLS, which can now add Tampa Bay

by Gary Shelton on May 3, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Is it a time for St. Pete to celebrate?./STEVEN MUNCIE

Is it a time for St. Pete to celebrate?./STEVEN MUNCIE

Wednesday, 5 a.m.

The real winner, you might say, was soccer.

The real winner, you could add, was St. Petersburg.

The real winners, you might note, were the boisterous, singing, fun-loving fans of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

But if you get down to it, if you really examine who won when voters made an overwhelming pitch for a new stadium, was the MLS. If you like the sport, if you like the spectacle, if you like the future of the league, it was the league itself that won Wednesday. Because it is the league that will increase its growth, and its popularity, when it adds St. Petersburg to its teams.

I know, I know. There are a dozen cities pitching woo at the MLS these days, and if you look at the odds, St. Pete doesn't look good for an immediate anointment. Evidently, every city thinks that the league is just waiting to kick them the ball and turn them loose. Towns love the better parts of themselves; who can blame them?

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The fans in Tampa Bay will grow./ERIC TILLOTSON

The fans in Tampa Bay will grow./ERIC TILLOTSON

But make no mistake about it. With a new stadium, and with more fans, this city belongs. Who knows if it happens as quickly as Bill Edwards, the potential owner, wants it to happen. But eventually, and perhaps sooner than any of us think, the MLS is going to recognize the wisdom of adding the Rowdies.

Ownership? Check. Edwards has been impulsive at times, but he's a solid owner, and he likes winning. He's volunteered to foot the bill for a new stadium, which may go down as his most popular move.

History? Yeah, the Rowdies were a big deal back in the 70s. They can be again.

Fans? Have you ever been to a game and gotten a load of how much fun the fans have? Hint: Don't come unless you plan to sing.

Rivalry? Wouldn't the War on I-4 translate to soccer pretty well.

Naturally, the goal (by Edwards and everyone else) is to be in that next surge of teams. But if that doesn't happen, it's okay. Tampa Bay still fits, and soccer still works. I remain convinced that there is a niche of fans here who like soccer above all other sports.

True, the Rowdies could draw more fans to their weekly games. But they average about 2/3 compacity. Except for the Lightning, what other teams can claim that.

I remember the first Rowdies game I covered. I called my wife and said “you gotta get a load of this.” Fans yelling, banging a drum, singing their sometimes-bawdy songs. There is something about that crowd that makes you want to run out and join them. As a group, they probably squeeze out every bit of enjoyment that their dollars allow.

The MLS? It'll happen. Sooner or later, the MLS will realize the wisdom of adding Tampa Bay.

The Rowdies are a hoot.

And the MLS is the goal.

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