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Rowdies continue preseason with familiar face in lineup

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The captain is home again. If he had his way, Frankie Sanfilippo never would have left.

Sanfilippo, 34, was cast out last year by the Rowdies after four years. He had been a champion here. He had been a captain. He was a mainstay.

And then he was a Striker.

Now, after the Rowdies didn’t want him a year ago, Sanrilippo has returned home. Once again, he is a member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Once again, he is a leader. And everything feels right.

“It was very tough to leave,” said Sanfilippo, 34. “I had been here four years. I was the captain. I had won a championship here. I didn’t see it coming. I was very disappointed. I thought I could end my career here. I’m very fortunate to be back

“I’ve loved every bit of being back. The field was different when I was here the first time. We didn’t have the stands. I’ve been here through everything. I’ve watched it grow up. It’s evolved so much. The pitch is immaculate.”

Sanfilippo is 34 now, near the end of a productive career. But he can still play. When coach Stuart Campbell was looking around for players, he was immediately interested in Sanfilippo. “He’s as good as anyone,” Campbell said.

Sanfilippo, as well as the other eight newcomers to the Rowdies, play their second preseason game tonight against the Philadelphia Union. For the Rowdies, much of the preseason will be spent on team building, on player combinations, on melding. That’s a particular strength of Sanfilippo, who takes pride in being a leader.

“I bring the team veteran leadership,” Sanfilippo said. “I can show the young guys what’s it’s like to bea professional on and off the field. I’ve won a championship. I know what it takes. I want to show the younger ones what you do. You want guys to look up to you. I want to show everyone I can still play.

“This team is very good. It’s a very talented team. We have guys who can fill in roles. That’s how deep this team is. It’s a good group in the locker room.”

It doesn’t matter the sport. Leadership is important. It was when Sanfilippo played high school football (running back, defensive back) in high school in San Jose.

It takes time, Sanfilippo said. It will take a preseason’s worth of play for the Rowdies to get to know each other. But the team showed promise in its 1-0 loss to D.C. United last week.

Tonight, it needs to show a little more.

“I know it’s not the important thing in a preseason game,” Sanfillippo said, “but I want to win. Every time I go out there, I want to win.”

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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