ST. PETERSBURG – The Tapmpa Bay Rowdies announced several offseason roster moves on Thursday. The club has exercised contract options for midfielders Evan Frimpong, Kyle Clinton and Keith Savage, and defender Jordan Gafa assuring their return for the 2014 season. On Friday, the club announced the signing of defender Blake Wagner to a two-year contract, plus a club option for a third year. They also re-signed star goalkeeper Diego Restrepo to a two-year contract, with the second year being a club option.
The Rowdies will see the return of veteran midfielder Keith Savage, who will enter his fourth season with the club. Savage finished the 2013 season with four goals and two assists in 25 league matches. Also returning next year for his third season with the club, will be midfielder Evans Frimpong. The Ghanaian native scored six goals in 23 matches, becoming one of the Rowdies most dangerous offensive threats as the year progressed. Local product Kyle Clinton will be wearing a Rowdies uniform once again in 2014, where he will look to earn a spot in the midfield.
Joining those mentioned above is defender Jordan Gafa, who earned 1,047 playing minutes at the right back position in his rookie season. Defender Jay Needham and forward Amani Walker are already under contract with the Rowdies through 2014.
Wagner (5-10, 170), originally from Atlanta, GA., joins the Rowdies after playing two seasons with NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions. During his time in San Antonio, Wagner played a pivotal role in the back line, where he not only provided defensive stability, but he was also an attacking threat down the left flank. In two seasons with the Scorpions, Wagner played 47 matches and scored three goals.
The 25-year-old defender signed with the Scorpions in 2012 after stints with FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver Whitecaps FC of Major League Soccer. He was drafted by FC Dallas in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft and from 2006 to 2009 he made 40 appearances with the club. He spent 2010-2011 with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake where he made 29 appearances and scored four goals between the two clubs.
Wagner began his soccer career when he was identified by U.S. Soccer through their national Olympic Development Program. While he was with the U-14 team, Wagner was recruited to U.S. Soccer‘s U-15 residency program at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Wagner was a starter with the U.S. National Team that competed at the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru.
Restrepo (6-0, 185) joined the Rowdies just weeks before the beginning of the 2013 season, but by the fifth match of the season he was named the starting goalkeeper. His first match as goalkeeper was against league rival Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, where he made several key saves to earn the Rowdies a 2-1 win. The Venezuelan-born goalkeeper went on to start in 26 matches including U.S. Open Cup matches.
Just one month after his first start, Restrepo once again proved why he would ultimately be one of the best keepers in the league. On May 29, when the Rowdies faced the Seattle Sounders, Restrepo made his biggest save of the year. After Hristov had put the Rowdies up 1-0, the Sounders were awarded a penalty kick with just minutes left in the match. Nigerian international Obafemi Martins stepped up for the kick but a diving Restrepo saved it.
The goalkeeper would only grow in confidence week after week, making game-changing saves every match. The goalkeeper saved all three penalty kicks he faced this year, something uncommon for a soccer goalkeeper. Restrepo’s performances led to him to be named to Team of the Week in seven opportunities.
Restrepo is an American national raised in Colombia, who joined the Rowdies after recently training with D.C. United earlier in 2013. Prior to his return to the United States, the young goalkeeper spent his 2011 rookie season with Colombian powerhouse America de Cali and his 2012 season with one of Venezuela’s most popular clubs, Deportivo Tachira.
In 2005, Restrepo was a member of the U.S. U-17 squad that participated in the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru. The goalkeeper would go on to play collegiately for the University of South Florida for two years, before transferring to the University of Virginia in 2009. In his first season at Virginia, Restrepo led the Cavaliers to an NCAA Division I National Championship, being named both the 2009 NCAA College Cup's Defensive MVP and the ACC Tournament MVP.
The Rowdies declined options for team captain Frankie Sanfilippo and forward Carl Cort, but are in advanced talks on new, restructured contracts for both players. In addition, the team declined 2014 contract options for Andres Arango, Etienne Barbara, Jamael Cox, Devin Del Do, Thurstan Johnson and Draymond Washington.
Players that are now free agents include Raphael Cox, Andrew Fontein, Shane Hill, Luke Mulholland, Daniel Scott, and Takuya Yamada.
The North American Soccer League announced the 2014 Spring Schedule on Thursday. Back-to-back home matches in May against the New York Cosmos and Ft. Lauderdale Strikers will highlight the sprint to obtain the 2014 Spring Season title.
The Rowdies will kick off the 2014 campaign at home against FC Edmonton on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. The match will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. and will be a rematch of the 2012 home opener, in which the Rowdies came away with a 1-0 win over the Eddies.
“The League has done an admirable job with a challenging spring schedule,” said Rowdies owner Bill Edwards. “I am looking forward to an exciting start to the 2014 season and the next chapter in Rowdies history. Fans and players will see a difference. Now let’s get going.”
A week later, the Rowdies will travel to Indianapolis to face one of the newest members of the NASL, Indy Eleven. After their trip to Indianapolis, the Rowdies will host the Atlanta Silverbacks, last year’s Spring Champions, on Saturday, April 26.
Five weeks into the Spring Season, the Rowdies will make their only trip to Canada during the Spring Season, where they will face another new NASL club. On Saturday, May 10, the first-ever match between Ottawa Fury FC and the Rowdies will take place.
After beginning the month of May with two straight matches on the road, the Rowdies will close the month hosting two of the most iconic rivalries in U.S. Soccer. On Saturday, May 17, Al Lang Stadium will once again welcome the New York Cosmos and Rowdies rivalry. In August of 2013, a sold out crowd of 7,032 fans packed Al Lang Stadium to witness the reemergence of this historic rivalry.
The following Saturday, the Rowdies will look to continue their dominance over in-state rivals Ft. Lauderdale as they battle it out at Al Lang Stadium.
After back-to-back home matches, the Rowdies will travel to face the Carolina RailHawks on Saturday, May 31 in their last away match of the Spring Season. The Rowdies will close out the 2014 Spring Season at home against Minnesota United FC on Saturday, June 7.
The shortened nine-week spring campaign will run through June 7, to allow for a mid-season break to align with the FIFA World Cup. The winner of the first half of the NASL season will qualify for and earn the right to host NASL Soccer Bowl 2014.