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Tampa Bay Rowdies announce their under 23 development team

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The Tampa Bay Rowdies would like to grow a player or two on their own.

The Rowdies will field a team in the USL’s Premier Development league this year, as the Rowdies U23 team is to begin play.

The team will remain based in Tampa at the Waters Soccer Complex and will compete in the PDL’s Southern Conference’s Southeast Division, which currently features seven other teams from around the Sunshine State.

“Rowdies U23 will give us an opportunity to develop young talent in the Tampa Bay area, while also developing a strong connection with the community,” said Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards. “There are many talented youth players in the region and Rowdies U23 will hopefully guide them towards becoming professional soccer players in the years to come. We want the sport to continue to grow in Tampa Bay and Rowdies U23 will do just that.”

The PDL, a part of the United Soccer Leagues – which also operates the USL and Super Y League – has served as a major development platform for aspiring professional players for more than two decades. Since 2010, nearly 70 percent of all MLS SuperDraft selections have had PDL experience, with 59 PDL alums chosen in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

FC Miami City, The Villages SC, Palm Beach Suns FC, IMG Academy, the South Florida Surf, Weston FC and the Tropics will serve as the Rowdies U23’s in-state rivals.

“The PDL is always excited and supportive of highly-operated teams from the USL, given the resources they provide to aspiring professionals,” PDL Director Todd Eason said. “There is a hotbed of talent in this region, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies U23 will provide an exceptional environment for the development of many college-aged players. I have no doubt the Rowdies U23 will adopt the ‘Path to Pro’ model and field a talented side to compete in a tough Southern Conference.”

The PDL, acknowledged as a leading “Path to Pro,” is a key phase in the development of emerging soccer talent in this country. As an amateur competition, the PDL allows college-aged players to retain their college eligibility, while also benefiting from high-level, competitive play during the college offseason.

The Rowdies U23 will enter the PDL alongside the Weston FC, Lakeland Tropics, Myrtle Beach Mutiny, Nashville SC U23, Tobacco Road FC, Wilmington Hammerheads FC and a San Diego-based team as expansion franchises.

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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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