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Is Tampa Bay’s best all-time soccer performer … Bill Edwards?

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He did not grow up on the pitch.

He did score any golden goals to break nil-nil ties.

Before it’s all said and done, however, the finest soccer performer in Tampa Bay history might just be a smiling man named Bill Edwards.

With all deference to Rodney Marsh, Derek Smethurst and Oscar Fabbiani, it is Edwards who is the current steward of the sport in Tampa. And it is Edwards who sees a bigger stadium, a better league and larger crowds for his Rowdies.

And isn’t that cool?

Edwards doesn’t have a foot like Joe Cole. He isn’t magnetic like Marsh. Above all, he doesn’t have hair like Carlos Valderrama. But, man, is he a player.

Edwards, a habitually dissatisfied man, is the George Steinbrenner of his sport. Like Steinbrenner, filled stadiums and pretty good does not quite cut it. Like Steinbrenner, Edwards wants his team to be the talk of the town. Like Steinbrenner, he believes in spending money to make money.

Take Joe Cole. Given that the Rowdies missed the playoffs this season, you could suggest that Cole – as wonderful as he was – wasn’t worth the money. But to Edwards, he was. He was a star, a marquee player, the straw that stirs the drink. You get the feeling that Edwards wants more Coles, not fewer.

Then there is the MLS. Edwards might have been happy with the NASL if it had been more functional. But it wasn’t, and Edwards began to flirt with the MLS. Now, he’s on a 10-team expansion list. He has media market size in his corner. He has history. He has a fan base. If he can get Al Lang expanded, he’ll have the stadium. Given that the 10 media markets that are bigger than Tampa Bay already have MLS, he’s a good bet.

Ah, and the stadium. This is where Edwards’ vision is particularly lovely. He sees Al Lang growing to more than 18,000 season seats, which would indeed make Saturday night a party and fill downtown. And he sees it with no cost to the taxpayer. If it’s free, is it for thee?

All of which would make the Rowdies more vital, and the sport more enjoyable. Who has made a bigger impact on the game locally than Edwards?

Oh, it will cost him some cash. Better players would be needed. Stadium improvements. Nicer restrooms, he has said, demonstrating his attention to detail.

But Edwards sees this as his legacy, and bully for him that he does. Bully for us, too. Call it Bill Edward’s golden gold.

It’s a fine sport, and it’s a good crowd that enjoys itself. For Tampa Bay, the future looks bright.

On the other hand, the Rowdies could use a few more goals.

Think Edwards can fill it up?

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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