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Tampa Bay Rowdies playing in USL Championship Final Sunday night

Can the Rowdies bring another trophy home to Champa Bay?

Luis Santana - Tampa Bay Times

In October 2005, Stuart Sternberg became the managing general partner of the Tampa Bay Rays, after an ownership group led by Sternberg agreed to purchase the team from Vince Naimoli in 2004. Three years later, the Rays found themselves playing for their first World Series title.

In October 2018, Sternberg purchased the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a second-division soccer club playing in the USL Championship, from Bill Edwards. Now, three years after Sternberg and other Rays brass have come in to run the team, the Rowdies find themselves playing for their first USL Championship title tonight in St. Petersburg.

Brian Auld and Stuart Sternberg being interviewed for the Tampa Bay Rowdies pregame show hosted by the Unused Substitutes. Left to right: Brian Auld, Stuart Sternberg, Stephen Cundiff, Daniel Endonino, Matthew Cox

I say all of this not to give Sternberg the entirety of the credit for leading these teams to success, but to celebrate the accomplishments of the people he’s entrusted to run them. While many questioned Sternberg’s motives behind the purchase of the Rowdies, he placed Matt Silverman and Brian Auld in charge of the business side of things (much like he did with the Rays), and let the soccer professionals run the on-field operations. Club President Lee Cohen and head coach Neill Collins are in charge of player development and scouting, and with both men having been with the club for several years, they understand what it takes to compete in the USL Championship. Collins was a Rowdies player before retiring midseason in 2018 to take over as head coach.

Last season, the Rowdies finished with the best record in their division and reached the USL Championship Final for the first time in club history. That final was cancelled due to a COVID outbreak just days before the match was scheduled to take place at Al Lang Stadium. They followed up last season’s performance by finishing with the best regular season record in the league and making a run back to the Final. That record ensured that tonight’s game will be played in front of a sold-out home crowd.

Just like their sister baseball club, the Rowdies are no strangers to postseason dramatics, as a last-second goal completed a two-goal comeback and gave them the chance to win the Eastern Conference Final in extra time last Saturday. In attendance were Rays fan favorites Brett Phillips and Randy Arozarena. Raiko Arozarena, brother to Randy, is a goalkeeper for the Rowdies.

Sunday’s final will be broadcast on ESPN, and kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 PM ET. A Rowdies win would mark their third ever championship, but first in the USL Championship (The first iteration of the club won the NASL Soccer Bowl in 1975, with the modern era team winning it again in 2012).