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Rowdies find defensive help in the stands in Scotland’s Neill Collins

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A soccer team can find players anywhere. Sometimes, they look half a world away.

Sometimes, they would be smart to check out their own stands.

If the Tampa Bay Rowdies had done so last year, as they played Atlanta, they might have found a tourist in the stands, watching the game. It was Neill Collins, happening by on one of his regular vacations to the Tampa Bay area.

Collins and his family have been vacationing in Florida for 24 years. Of course, Collins was also a defender for Sheffield United, a division one team in England. Collins grew up in Troon, but he has kept an eye on the progress of American soccer with the notion of moving overseas.

“I was keen on changing after six seasons,” he said. “I thought the way of life, the culture, would be a good place for my family (sons Patrick, 4, and Pete, 3).”

This off-season, Collins and the Rowdies struck a quick deal. He left Sheffield via mutual agreement.

Around the Rowdies, they talk of Collins’ first day with the team. He had gone on the internet the night before and memorized the names and faces. When he showed up, he knew the team. And he quickly moved into the starting lineup.

After two games, the defenders are one of the strengths of the team. They’ve allowed one goal in two games, both draws.

“He complements the other defensive players,” said coach Stuart Campbell.

That backline will be important tonight as the Rowdies play FC Edmonton.

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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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