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2017 USL Season Preview: Tampa Bay Rowdies

Back in the USL after six years away, the ambitious club is bringing an exciting brand of soccer to the Eastern Conference.

Year Founded: 2008, in its current state

Affiliation: Independent

2016 record: 9th in the NASL Combined Standings

2016 playoffs: Did not Qualify for NASL Playoffs

Key additions: Marcel Schäfer from VfL Wolfsburg, Leo Fernandes from Philadelphia Union, Deshorn Brown from Shenzhen, Luke Boden from Orlando City

Key departures: Darwin Espinal, Victor “PC” Giro

Projected/ideal starting XI (4-2-3-1): Matt Pickens; Luke Boden, Neil Collins, Tamika Mkandawire, Darnell King; Michael Nanchoff, Marcel Schäfer; Alex Morrell, Joe Cole (c), Darwin Jones; Deshorn Brown

The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced their move to the USL after what many fans would consider a disappointing final run to the playoffs in the last North American Soccer League season. The Rowdies are coming into the newly expanded USL fighting, with several new and exciting additions to the squad to bolster former England international Joe Cole and friends this season. They started the trade window by offering talented young winger Victor “PC” Giro to Orlando City SC of MLS in exchange for veteran left back Luke Boden, who will attempt to fill a position where the Rowdies have been in need for three years. They have also picked up Bundesliga Champion and former German international Marcel Schäfer from Vfl Wolfsburg to improve an already strong midfield, led by Cole.

This will be the second full season at the helm for former Rowdies player and captain Stuart Campbell, who took over as head coach after the controversial sacking of manager Thomas Rongen midway through the 2015 NASL season. Campbell has a lot to prove this season, and all eyes are on him going into the USL, as the Rowdies only won a single preseason game en route to a possible MLS bid. After ending 2016 in decline, the club hopes to bounce back this season in the USL starting, with a game against cross-state rivals Orlando City B.

Why you should watch the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017:

The Rowdies have made several offseason moves in acquiring high-pace forwards, such as Alex Morrell and Deshorn Brown, to play up top in front of Cole. Expect high-paced action and over-the-top balls, as talented and fast players attempt to guide the Rowdies to a high-scoring season.

3 players to watch:

Joe Cole: Since joining the Rowdies in the 2016 season, Cole has been a leader on the field. He finished the last campaign with nine goals and seven assists to lead the Rowdies in scoring, so expect Cole to bring the same magic to the USL.

Deshorn Brown: Brown was a preseason trialist with the Rowdies from Shenzhen in China, at first only for training. But, after several impressive preseason displays, the Rowdies were able to acquire the lightning-fast forward to help lead the line this year.

Matt Pickens: One of the most reliable goalkeepers in North America is now going to be in the USL. Last season Pickens played 31 games, in which he recorded eight shutouts with a 1.23 GAA. At 34, don't expect the former MLS champion to die down just yet.

The 2017 season will be a success if... the Rowdies can finally wrap their heads around the 4-2-3-1. Cole is the number-10 the Rowdies have been looking for, and hopefully with the right offseason pickups, they will finally be able to master the formation Campbell has been using.

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Tampa Bay Rowdies and The MLS