It's a whole new season for FC Tampa Bay
ST. PETERSBURG - It has been a long offseason for the FC Tampa Bay soccer team. In the six months since the 2010 season ended, the franchise has changed its name, coaching staff, league and more than half of its roster from a year ago. Known as the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies last year, the team played its home games at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa and got off to a quick start before fading and missing the playoffs in its inaugural season. Since then, Englishman Ricky Hill has been appointed head coach and the team has crossed the bay to Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, dropping "Rowdies" from its name along the way. FC Tampa Bay will play in the revamped North American Soccer League, which was sanctioned as the United States' second-division league in the offseason.The roster also went through an overhaul. Of the 21 players on this year's opening-day roster, only eight played for FC Tampa Bay last year. Co-owner Andrew Nestor said he thinks he has bolstered the defense by signing Andres Arango from the NSC Minnesota Stars and Frankie Sanfilippo, formerly of the Rochester Rhinos. "Expectations are high," Nestor said. "It's a much higher caliber of player on our roster this year. More experience, more leadership and just players who've proven themselves to be able to excel at this level." Arango played in 28 games last year for the Stars. He will begin the season serving a two-game suspension that carries over from last year. Sanfilippo is team captain, a post he previously held in Rochester. The field at Al Lang Stadium is significantly larger than the cramped quarters of Steinbrenner Field, which also had a large area of infield dirt. The infield has been covered in grass at Al Lang, though the grass is still growing in. The larger space has allowed Hill to implement a quick, technical type of soccer he believes will please the fans more than the physical game the team played last season. "I've always admired flair players, technical players, stylish sides," Hill said. "Of course, we don't want to be ... soccer's equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. We want to win games, but at the same time, there's a certain standard and a style of entertainment that I would like to see, a brand of football that I think the supporters and the area will be pleased and proud of." Hill has promoted this philosophy by running his scrimmages with one- or two-touch limitations, forcing his players to be sharp and play quickly. Aaron King, who led the team with 12 goals a season ago, is looking forward to the larger playing surface at Al Lang. "The pitch is very nice, but we're still trying to get used to it," King said after the team's first practice on the field Thursday. "I'm looking forward to having all green everywhere, that's definitely a great change."
Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa