Ten years have passed, but Matt Pickens still remembers the feeling of accomplishment.
He was a young man then, in his third year of this profession of soccer goaltender. But his team caught fire. They shut out the Kansas City Wizards. They beat the New England Revolution. They shut out D.C. United. Then they beat the L.A. Galaxy in the finals.
Just like that, Pickens was a champion. His team had won the Lamar Hunt Cup, a multi-league tournament.
A decade later, and Pickens has another chance. The Tampa Bay Rowdies, coming off an impressive win, takes on the first-year FC Cincinnati team, a club that is 6-2-2 and in third place in its division.
“They’re a good team,” said Rowdies’ coach Stu Campbell. “They could hold their own in the NASL.
“(The tournament) means a lot to me. It’s an opportunity to play teams outside of your league. It’s good competition forming. As a player, I enjoyed Cup competition if it was the F.A. Cup or the League Cup. It’s a different mentality for us.”
For the Rowdies, taking on a tournament at the same time they’re trying to get back in the NASL race will be double duty. But Pickens said his team is looking forward to it.
“It’s something you welcome, for sure,” Pickens said “Any chance you get to play in a tournament that’s going to give you a trophy, well, that’s part of it. We know how to manage it.
“Winning it was fun. It was just pure happiness. For me, it was my first championship. It was important to keep driving me in my career. Any chance I have to get back is great.”
The Rowdies put one of their best efforts of the year together in beating Minnesota on the road last week. The offense scored, the defense threw a shutout and Pickens held the opponents out of the net.
“Every play we had on the field dug deep,” Pickens said.
The Rowdies play at 7:30 Wednesday.