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Experiencing a Rowdies game for the first time

What have the Rays acquired in the Tampa Bay Rowdies?

The Tampa Bay Rowdies played their final home game on the season on Saturday night, and since the Rowdies were recently purchased by the Tampa Bay Rays, we took a look at what a Rowdies game is like for a first-time attendee, making the trip to Al Lang Stadium to get an idea of what the experience would be like for Rays fans who have interest in this foreign new world.

Getting to the grounds

Five minutes away from Tropicana Field, Al Lang Stadium requires a similar trip as one to the Trop would take. Finding parking was relatively easy, as there are three lots within a block of the stadium that take cash on game days.

With bars and restaurants scattered around the walkable area, there’s definitely something to do while waiting for the match to start. The walk to the stadium is relatively short but also pretty neat, with the 2nd Ave providing views of the towering condos and provoking art.

Walking up to Al Lang Stadium, there is an outdoor store that lets you grab some gear, and there are two main entrances into the stadium.

Entering the stadium

Walking through gate two, which was my ticket’s designated gate, it was as similar of a process to entering a stadium as any other. Security is standard issue, as was scanning my ticket, but with a key difference being that once you enter the stadium, you’re almost immediately in the concourse.

A walk up a small ramp, at least if you enter through gate two, brings you into a narrow concourse that has food behind you, food in front of you, a mini-shop to the left of you and tunnels to the seats all around you.

It’s an intimate setting, and better for it.

Settling into the seats

I was impressed by how easy my seats were to navigate to. Each seat has a gap that’s a couple of inches wide and it makes for comfortable leg room for almost anyone sitting in them.

Despite its conversion from a baseball stadium, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house, as every seat is relatively close to the pitch. Additionally, the higher up you sit, the more pitch you can see, allowing a view similar to that of what you’d see on a TV broadcast.

In addition to the regular seats, there’s also a berm along the “first base” side of the stadium.

Time for kick-off

About ten minutes after warmups concluded, the players made their way out of the locker room and back out on to the pitch. It was about this time when the group of supporters in the stands known as Ralph’s Mob started their pre-game festivities.

With the raising of their banner, the lighting of their flares and the banging of their drums, Ralph’s Mob set the atmosphere that would be carried on throughout the night.

Following the player introductions and the national anthem, the match started shortly after 7:30. The Rowdies, who were desperately fighting for a playoff spot, were facing the Charlotte Independence, who were even more desperate for that spot.

The first fifteen minutes were mostly dominated by the Rowdies, and the atmosphere was entirely consumed by Ralph’s Mob’s chanting. The atmosphere was seriously so cool to experience, and even though I was not sitting in The Mob, to feel like I was a part of.

The Charlotte Independence scored the first goal in the 26th minute, and then another goal in the 32nd minute. You’d think that two quick goals from the visiting team would suck the life out of the home supporters, right? That wasn’t the case at Al Lang Stadium, as the support from everyone in the crowd never once stopped, even if their optimism wasn’t at the same level.

These fans have created a new and enthralling culture around the historic brand, as evidenced at halftime, when a video played remembering the previous five years of Rowdies soccer.

With the start of the second half, possession was mostly split between the two sides, but as full time neared, the Rowdies again were the ones driving possession in their favor.

To illustrate Tampa Bay’s dominance of possession, here’s a graphic showing key passes (passes that lead to an attempt on goal) from each team, with the Rowdies being the black boxes and Charlotte in green:

In the 80th minute, Leon Taylor finally put the Rowdies on the board with a goal that sent an explosion of cheers throughout the stadium. From that point on, the support from the home side fans never dropped. Al Lang was rockin’.

With many attacking attempts and corner-kicks, the Rowdies were poised to score a second, equalizing goal. Unfortunately, even after 22 shots, the Rowdies couldn’t put another one in the net.

The best chance that the Rowdies had to tie the game up came in the 94th minute, and that shot did go into the net, but it was ruled offside.

Following the final whistle, goalkeeper Daniel Vega received a red card for arguing with the referees, and was very animated in doing so. Unfortunately, the Rowdies were eliminated from playoff contention with this loss, while Charlotte kept their playoff hopes alive.

Since this was the final home match on the season, all of the Rowdies players stayed afterwards to sign autographs for the fans, and they didn’t leave for at least 20 minutes following the conclusion of the match.

Al Lang Stadium was a great host to a great match between two strong teams, and that made for a really fun night.

I shared my immediate final thoughts on the Rays’ acquisition of the Rowdies in a couple of tweets, and I stand by those thoughts upon reflection:

I think the Rays have a real winner in the Rowdies and there’s a ton of potential for growth thanks to the community surrounding this franchise.

I really hope to see the clubs embrace each other with things like a “Rowdies Night” at Rays games and vice versa, and as the franchises begin to integrate some back office requirements, I hope the cultures can learn from each other as well.

But if there’s one thing that attending a match has convinced me of, it’s that going to another game is a must, and I recommend Rays fans to give their new sibling organization a shot in 2019.