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.