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Freddy Adu makes his debut for the Rowdies in a 3-1 loss to the Strikers

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ST. PETERSBURG — The stage was set for one of those movie-script stories.

It was extra time, and the home team trailed by one in its rivalry game, and the ball was on the foot of Freddy Adu. Already, he had an assist, and he came into the box, darting and weaving. He lifted the ball up softly toward the goal… and it was tipped away for a corner kick.

Fourteen minutes into his Tampa Bay Rowdies era, and Adu is still looking for impact.

Not even Adu, the well-know and electrifying midfielder, could save the Rowdies Saturday night in a loss to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, who would add a goal afterward to make the final 3-1. The Rowdies offense is still sluggish, and despite changing goaltenders, the team is still giving up too many.

But if this is the rebirth of Adu, perhaps it can be the rebirth of the Rowdies, too. Perhaps they can give something to each other.

Eventually.

“By no means is this the arrival of Freddy Adu,” said Thomas Rongen, the Rowdies coach. He has to prove to me and his teammates that he deserves more minutes and he’l get them down the road. He had some moments. The assist. He almost got the ball to Maicon (Santos) on his first touch. But he has to prove himself to the rest of the team. We have to bleed him in a little bit.”

On the other hand, the season is running out, and until Santos scored in extra time, the Rowdies had gone 330 minutes without scoring. Adu, however, seems happy to play limited minutes for now.

“Thomas is the coach,” Adu said. “I trust him. I trust what he wants to do. In the past, I haven’t been so patient. But I’m mature now. I’m trusting the process. He wants to do the right thing for me and for others. He brought me here for a reason, he knows what he’s doing.”

Adu stood in a corridor at Al Lang and leaned back on the wall. His No. 9 jersey didn’t have a lot of wear to it, to be honest.

“I see this as a new start. I just turned 26. This is a great opportunity for me, I’m very grateful. I’ve bonded around Europe a lot, and with very short stays. For a young player, that’s not good. You need a home and you need to feel comfortable. I’ve never felt comfortable and just able to play and have a smile on my face. But I’ve been here two weeks and I’m already playing with a smile on my face. They encourage you. Every day, I play with a smile. They say just attack and be free.”

Certainly, the Rowdies could use a bit more of burst. They have lost three in a row now, and not even tweaks by Rongen could help his team. He admitted he was disappointed with the way the game began. “We didn’t quite have that edge that you need in a rivalry,” he said. “We were just flat. We weren’t as sharp as we need to be.”

In the late going, Rongen pulled a defender for another attacker to try to get a tie. It came close to working in the 90th minute.

“We’ll get it back again,” Rongen said. “We have a great group inside. We’ll go back to the drawing board. It’s a technical thing, tactical thing, a physical thing and an emotional thing.”

The Rowdies play at the Carolilna Railhawks this week.

“We just have to grind it out,” Rongen said.

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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