Rowdy Fans Pack Al Lang for FC Tampa Bay Home Opener
The raucous crowd goes home happy as the team defeats Montreal, 1-0.
ST. PETERSBURG - Thousands of soccer-crazed fans piled into Al Lang Field to see history on Saturday night.
FC Tampa Bay scored a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact in the first ever-soccer match played on the same field where Babe Ruth once roamed.
“In my 48 years of life, I’ve never seen this infield with grass on it,” Mayor Bill Foster said as fans streamed into the ballpark. “How cool is this?”
Fans came from far and wide – from all over the Tampa Bay area and points such as Jacksonville, Fort Walton Beach and even Washington, D.C. –to see the Bay area’s pro soccer franchise’s 2011 debut.
One group of rabid followers, named Ralph’s Mob after the original Rowdies’ mascot, brought over 100 members to the game. Their support was loud, entertaining, and continuous throughout the entire match.
“We started this last year and went to the games in Tampa,” Mob member John Sasse said. “But the atmosphere is better over here (in St. Pete). There’s more places to meet before the game, which makes the walk over more fun.”
While Ralph’s Mob cheered and chanted and did its best to get the rest of the announced 3,693 in attendance riled up, the players worked hard to bring the fans a victory.
They had a great chance to score in the first half, when a kick from in close sailed just wide of the Montreal net.
Late in the second half, another golden opportunity melted away when a penalty kick by Tsuyoshi Yoshitake rolled wide right of Impact goalkeeper Bill Gaudette.
But just two minutes later, in the game’s 86th minute, midfielder Takuya Yamada laced a shot from 35 yards out over Gaudette for the game’s only goal to send everyone in attendance home happy.
“It was amazing,” defenseman and Tampa native J.P. Rodrigues said after the win. “They (the fans) were amazing…beautiful night, beautiful day, couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Tampa Bay’s original NASL pro soccer team was called the Rowdies. The latest incarnation of the team was forced to drop the old name due to a legal dispute.
But no matter what they officially call the team, fans will always be passionate in their support.
“They got the best name for this team – rowdy,” berm beer vendor Dolores aptly said over the chanting.
FC Tampa Bay’s next home game is Sunday, April 17,th at 6 p.m., against the Puerto Rico Islanders. For a look at the full schedule, click here.