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A worldwide game began here for two Rowdies

in Apolitical/Sports/The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

For them, it began here. On the youth fields, with cheering parents, with volunteer coaches, with a ball and a net.

For them, it has ended up here, too. On better fields, with bigger crowds, with professional coaches, with a similar ball and a similar net.

And if two members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies would like you to join them on their journey, well, please understand.

This sport, this team, this area, all mean a lot to Brian Shriver and to Darnell King, the players of a worldwide game who spent a lot of their youth waiting for professional soccer to return to town.

The growth of soccer, and the passion over the Tampa Bay Rowdies, means a lot to both Shriver, from Clearwater, and King, from Tampa. They are the bridges between this area and this game, the ambassadors of a team whose popularity seems to be growing all the time. They are of us. They know what this game can do, how it can bond a community.

That’s the thing about the Rowdies. They have players from all over the globe. But they also have those who represent the game from a local aspect. Both King and Shriver have played other places, and both of them have made an impact on the league. But both of them came home. And both of them think this is a fine place to grow the sport.

Ask King, who was a member of the Best 11 in the NASL.

Ask Shriver, who once won the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer.

“We want to build something big in this area,” Shriver said. “It means a lot when my family and friends are from here. Growing up, I knew the old Rowdies were very big in the area. They used to get big crowds back in the Old Sombrero. They brought a lot of passion to the game. We have a good opportunity to bring that passion back and try to replicate it.”

King agrees. He enjoys running into old classmates or other people he knew when he was younger and being recognized. He loves telling people about his job.

For the Rowdies, this seems to be a key element in their development. If the other pro teams in town mean anything, it’s that people enjoy great athletes from other places. But they love the home-grown, too.

The Rowdies are on the road this week at Ottawa, then return home May 17 to play the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

You know, like Shriver, who will tell you about Clearwater and Frenchy’s and Pier 60 and Clearwater Beach.

You know, like King, who will tell you about Busch Gardens and Carrollwood and the docks.

“I think we all represent something,” King said. “It feels important to me being back.”

King’s family, in particular, is part of the fabric of sports in Tampa Bay. His father, Timothy, played with the Tampa Bay Bandits and, for a short while, with the Bucs. But the younger King was a soccer player, a sport his father adopted, too.

“”I tell people that Rowdies’ games are a great environment,” King said. “If you just want to have a nice weekend, maybe learn about soccer, come see the game. It’s a beautiful city. It’s a growing sport, and it’s a good time.”

Shriver will say much the same. Oh, personally, he’s off to a tough start. Since winning the Golden Boot in ’13, he was hobbled by a bad ankle for much of last year. This year, he’s had a shoulder injury and concussion-type symptoms.

But Shriver has always given a lot to this sport. As a kid, he played club soccer in Miami. He spent two weeks training in Spain. He still believes he can play. He’s just waiting to seize his moment.

“I think I’ll get my chance eventually,” he said.

When that happens, family will be in the stands. And friends. And fans.

Odd. Shriver likes football. And hockey. And baseball. But he thinks there is room for one more sport on the Tampa Bay menu.

“I like the free flowing part of it,” he said. “There aren’t any set plays, really. You just play.”

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 [email protected]

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