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5 things to keep your eye on as Rowdies open their USL era

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Five things to look for in tonight’s home opener for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

1. The crowd: Sure, most teams look for a big gate in their opening game. For the Rowdies, who have been pushing their attendance to make the MLS notice, it’s even more important. Tampa Bay has to establish itself as a solid market.

2. New surroundings: The USL isn’t where the Rowdies were, and it isn’t where they want to be long-term. But it’s a stable league, which pulled the Rowdies from the NASL, where they had played for years. The opponent, Orlando B, could be the birth of a new rivalry.

3. Joe Cole: Someday, Cole will get old. Not yet, though. Cole has looked as frisky as ever in the Rowdies’ training camp, and he’s still capable of taking your breath away with a key goal. At this stage of his career, Cole is also a calming influence for a young team.

4. Marcel Shafer: The Rowdies hope Shafer, too, can have a bit impact on their roster. He spent 10 seasons playing for German Bundesliga’s VfL Wolfsburg.

5. Georgi Hristov: Hristov, last season’s leading scorer for the Rowdies, leads an attack the team hopes will be more productive. Speed gives the Rowdies’ fans reason to hope.

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Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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