The Tampa Bay Rowdies weren't very good last season, finishing above just the Atlanta Siverbacks and a pair of expansion sides in the final North American Soccer League standings. That 7th place finish may have been a bit flattering as well, as their -14 GD was only better than that of the woeful Silverbacks, and their 50 goals allowed was level with Atlanta for the worst total in the league.
The Florida cub didn't waste any time before getting to work on those issues, replacing Ricky Hill with new coach Thomas Rongen almost immediately. With Rongen came sweeping changes to the squad, which were largely focused on shoring up a very leaky defense.
Darnell King, Brad Rusin, and Gale Agbossoumonde were all brilliant additions to the squad, and should leave returning goalkeeper Matt Pickens with far less fires to put out. Marcelo Saragosa should also help that new back line click, and the addition of Maicon Santos to the attack was an excellent addition.
With massive turnover come questions, but one thing that Tampa have going for them is that they made their moves early, giving that group as much time to gel as possible before the start of the season. Rongen has labeled 2015 as a 'transition year' several times this spring, but if the new players look cohesive early, this group could be very, very good.
Notable additions: Gale Agbossoumonde, Stefan Antonijevic, Darwin Espinal, Juan Guerra, Martin Hernandez, Darnell King, Martin Nunez, Brad Rusin, Maicon Santos, Marcelo Saragosa, Ben Sweat, Verneri Valimaa
Key departures: Evans Frimpong, Lucky Mkosana, Shane Hill, J.P. Rodriguez, Frankie Sanfilippo, Anthony Wallace
2015 outlook: It's always hard to predict how clubs with such massive roster turnover will fare, but I really like what the Rowdies have done this winter. They've taken a defensive unit that was a huge question mark and added both quality and quantity to the group. They didn't stop with the back four either, continuing to shore up the defense with excellent midfield acquisitions as well.
Like last year's San Antonio Scorpions, I think the Rowdies have done enough over the winter to turn themselves into legitimate championship contenders, and have the sort of quality defensive corps that should make them a nightmare draw in any knockout competition. This is now a playoff-caliber squad with one of the best coaches in the US, and I expect good things from the Rowdies this season.