Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Indy Eleven 0 at Tampa Bay Rowdies 0 (NASL) - April 2, 2016


When I originally planned this trip, I expected to see Stetson baseball on Saturday afternoon and then the Tampa Bay Lightning hosting New Jersey in the evening. When I woke up to a torrential rainstorm, that plan was quickly dashed. Because of this storm, the Stetson baseball game had been moved from a 2 p.m. start to 11 a.m., and I would not be able to make it from Ocala to DeLand by that time. Not that it mattered, because the storm had already reached DeLand and the start time was TBD. Looking at other schedules, I saw that the Braves final spring training game started at 1:00 at Champion Stadium just outside of Orlando, and according to the radar, that area was south of the storm, which by then had passed through Ocala, revealing clear skies. So I started driving in that direction, but soon caught up to the storm. The rain got worse as I drew closer to Orlando and I realized that it was unlikely that game would be played either. I pulled over to check the status, and sure enough, it had been cancelled. So much for weather forecasts.

Out of options for the afternoon, I made my way to St. Petersburg and checked into my hotel around 2, only to find out that the Stetson baseball game was going to start at 3, just an hour after it was originally scheduled. Too late for me to get back, but if I had just gone there in the first place, I would have seen that game after all. I still had the Lightning that night though, but as I was looking for tickets, I discovered that the Tampa Bay Rowdies were home too, playing their season opener against the Indy Eleven. The Rowdies play in downtown St. Pete in Al Lang Stadium, a one-time spring training and minor league venue. Having already passed through Tampa, heading to the hockey would force me to backtrack nearly 20 miles, while I was just a few minutes from downtown St. Pete, where the Jays would open the season the following day. And having never been inside Al Lang Stadium, it made it a pretty easy decision to skip the NHL and add another venue (#643 overall) to my count.



After the rain had finally stopped, I drove downtown and found street parking about a minute from the stadium. The parking lot had a few tailgaters but it was still early going as you can see above. A quick check at the box office showed that the cheapest ticket was $23.50, a bit much for the NASL in my mind, so I decided to wait until closer to game time, and spent an hour or so at Rowdies Den, a soccer bar a couple of blocks from the stadium. It was lively with anticipation for the season opener, and I seemed to be the only one not clad in the green and yellow team colours. Fortunately, I also wasn't wearing the visiting kit, and hence I was able to enjoy a couple of $2 pints and watch the early minutes of Villanova's stomping of Oklahoma in the Final Four.



Returning to the stadium, I stood outside looking for someone with an extra and was soon rewarded when a guy asked me if I needed a ticket. I replied in the affirmative and was handed a stub. Free soccer! I entered immediately and was surprised to see the layout.



The stadium was opened in 1977, replacing Al Lang Field which had stood on the site for 30 years. Lang was a one-time mayor of St. Petersburg who was instrumental in bringing spring training to Florida way back in 1914. The Yankees were among the teams to have used St. Petersburg as a spring home, so Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were two of the names who had once worked out the winter kinks here. The facility was renovated for soccer in 2011, becoming a soccer-only facility three years after that. Still, the seating bowl is still like that of a baseball stadium (above), curving around one corner of the field (below). The green and yellow plastic molded seats were added during that 2014 renovation to make the stadium more appropriate for the Rowdies. As you can see below, a few sections of seats have been added along the far sideline; at $65 these are very overpriced.



The best seats are at either end of the seating bowl; the left end ($26 as they are reserved) faces the goal while the right end ($23.50 for general admission) is directly behind the net. The view from there is below.



The supporters section is just to the left here, though they are relatively small. They do release some sort of green smoke before the game and  participate in chants throughout the contest.



The roof is really cool and covers the top few rows, a useful feature during an afternoon game. Although it had threatened to rain for much of evening, no drops fell and the match was played on a dry field.



Unfortunately, it was a dull affair. Indy seemed content to stay back and counter attack, but Tampa Bay's defense didn't give them any real chances. The Rowdies had one fantastic opportunity early in the second half but Indy keeper Jon Busch (2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with Chicago) saved Tom Heinemann's attempt. Heinemann was with Ottawa last season and scored both Fury goals in the NASL Championship.



The final was 0-0 with Tampa Bay dominating all statistics but unable to find the goal they needed to take all three points. There were only 4 total shots on goal, providing fodder for those who think soccer is boring. Yeah, this game was a snoozer, but so are many games in all sports, a fact I encounter all too often.



Notes

With my camera out of commission, all photos are taken with my new phone, which has a limited zoom. Thus there will be few action pictures and scoreboard shots will be pretty crap when I'm sitting far away. Sorry about that.

Best,

Sean

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