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Rowdies hope new energy will lead to better results in 2017

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There are new faces. There is a new league. There is new energy.

But for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the burning question is simple:

Will they be better than they were a year ago?

For the Rowdies, whose roster is almost complete, that is the burning question. The Rowdies were only ninth in the NASL a year ago, going 9-12-11.

This year, however, the Rowdies are in the USL.

This year, however, the Rowdies will have star midfielder Joe Cole for the entire season.

This year, however, they have five newcomers, all of them young players to complete in a faster league. For instance, there is new signee Darwin Jones, who spent part of last season with the MLS champion Seattle Sounders. Jones joins Georgi Hristov, the returning leading scorer from last year.

The Rowdies spurred a lot of interest this off-season when they talked of their ambitions to expand Al Lang Stadium and to join the MLS. That energy, the team hopes, will also show on the field

The defense still figures to be the backbone of the Rowdies. Goaltender Matt Pickens is back, as are defenders Tamika Mkandawire, Darnell King and Neill Collins, among others (including signee Damion Lowe). The midfield is led by Cole, Keith Savage and Martin Vingaard. Newly signed Alex Morrell will blend in.

The Rowdies play the Philadelphia Union in the Suncoast Invitational on February 18.

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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