So, I typically write a preview on the Tampa Bay Rowdies home matches with the generic need-to-know gibberish. On this day, I choose differently, because attending a Rowdies game is more than just showing up to watch what happens on the field and relating it to standings.
With that being said, here are five reasons why the Rowdies are a must-attend event, either this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when they host the Carolina Railhawks at Al Lang Stadium or their remaining home matches throughout the fall:
— With the Rays struggling to tread water in the MLB playoff race, the Rowdies are a legitimate force to contend with in the North American Soccer League. After an ugly Spring Season, the Rowdies are taking advantage of the quirky playoff design in the NASL by jumping out to an impressive start to the Fall Season. Riding a two-match winning streak, the Rowdies enter Saturday's match having won four of six since the league took a mid-season break to essentially let the FIFA World Cup take the global stage in soccer. Last weekend saw the Rowdies down the New York Cosmos 3-1 at Al Lang, with Keith Savage, Tamika Mkandawire and Blake Wagner all scoring.
— Mkandawire has added an electric dynamic to the Rowdies formation since being signed to the club on the Fourth of July. The 6-foot-1 defender, who captained Shrewsbury Town in the English Football League Two last season, has earned a place on the NASL Team of the Week two consecutive weeks after scoring a goal in two straight games. His play from the back has opened up opportunities for him and other defenders, as well as the front line. Having played his entire career in England, Mkandawire has provided the type of experience and leadership that has helped the rest of the Rowdies roster to seamlessly find themselves. This is the best shape and play the Rowdies have demonstrated since their championship-winning season two years ago.
“Overall, it’s probably one of our most complete 90 minutes," Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said following the 3-1 win over the New York Cosmos last Saturday. "We’ve had moments where we’ve been good in games, but we haven’t been able to sustain those moments over longer periods."
— Let's face it, if you're gonna have a sports stadium on one of the coastal areas in Florida, why have it anywhere else but on the water? It baffles me that the Buccaneers and the Rays didn't attempt to put their big league venues within a stone's throw of Tampa Bay like the Tampa Bay Times Forum or, in this case, Al Lang Stadium. Alas, the Rowdies now occupy the field formerly known as the spring training home to a plethora of baseball teams. With that comes the most scenic place to view a sporting event in the Tampa Bay region. At game time, fans get a chance to take in the iconic Floridian sunsets all while watching supremely fit athletes against a backdrop of the globally known Salvador Dali Museum, sailboats in the South Yacht Basin, and planes taking off and landing at Albert Whitted Airport. Bottom line: it's what a stadium for sports in Florida is supposed to be like.
— The Ralph's Mob ... enough said. For more insight, here's my feature on The Mob from a year ago.
— The tailgate parties, the freebies, cheap (but good) hot dogs, the low beer prices, a chance to win five grand. This Saturday, the first 500 fans get a Rowdies plastic mug, a great vessel in which to pour the $5 beer. Also, it's $2 hot dog night with prices good from the time gates open (6 p.m.) until the start of the second half.
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Carolina RailHawks
Saturday, August 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida
Follow us for live updates on Twitter at @RowdiesGameday.
You can also watch the match live on Great 38.
Enjoy $2 hot dogs through halftime
Tampa Bay: 4-0-2, 12 points, NASL Fall season; 6-4-5, 22 points, NASL combined season
Carolina: 2-0-5, 6 points, NASL Fall season; 6-2-8, 20 points, NASL combined season