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Tampa Bay Rowdies open their season tonight against Indy

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He has taken over disappointing teams. He has gathered teams in the clubhouse to say farewell. He has wandered the sideline, urging this player to be better than he was yesterday.

What Stuart Campbell has never done, however, is coach a season opener.

He has never directed a team toward a new season. He has never felt the eagerness of the fans at the start of the journey. He has never opened the wrapping on a new team.

Until tonight.

Campbell directs his Tampa Bay Rowdies toward a new season tonight as the Rowdies open their season against the Indy 11. There is excitement in his voice as he talks about this team, one he believes will be a contender, and the improvements that have been made.

“It’s great,” Campbell said. “I experienced it as a player, as an assistant coach. Obviously, the preseason is the least enjoyable time. It’s very tough. This is why you play.”

Still, Campbell thinks his team had a good preseason, from getting fit to melding the new and the old. From the early games against the MLS to the trip to England, he thinks will pay dividends.

Then, there is this:

Campbell likes his team.

He thinks he has ability on the front line, sturdiness on the back, flexibility among the midfield, strength in goal. Campbell thinks the league will be stronger, but that the Rowdies will be, too.

The goaltending? “Strong,” he said. “We have three very good goalkeepers. Of course, the challenge is to play. That’s harder in goal than out in the field.”

The defense? “Strong,” he repeated. “We’ve very good.”

The midfield? “Very good,” he said.

The offense? “We have more speed,” he said. “More mobility.”

That said, Campbell thinks the Indy 11 have made key additions, too. He thinks this will be a difficult way to begin.

Perhaps. Would anything else make any sense?

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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