Tampa Bay Rowdies’ midfielder Keith Savage has never been lucky when it comes to the semifinals. From high school state playoffs, through college at the University of West Florida and into his professional career, he had never won the penultimate match to play for a championship. This was until the 2012 North American Soccer League playoffs.
Savage and the Rowdies eventually fought their way past the Carolina RailHawks in the league semi-final series, although for Savage, it at first looked like it was going to be the same disappointment of years before. After winning the first game of the two game series 2-1, the Rowdies found themselves in a 2-0 hole 18 minutes into game two. But, a penalty kick and two second-half goals for the Rowdies was the difference. Due to their aggregate score in the two games being 5-2 they advanced to play in the NASL Bowl.
The Rowdies lost the first match in the championship series 2-0 to Minnesota United FC, and it was going to take a big game at home if the Rowdies were going to hoist the championship trophy, and that is exactly what Savage and his team delivered. He had a goal and an assist in the game and helped the Rowdies to a penalty shootout victory after a 3-1 win.
“To finally win a championship was an amazing feeling. We kind of rode that high through the off season, and now it is time to get back to work. We want another one.”
But, the Rowdies are not looking to take this season lightly. Every player must continue to improve in such a fast paced league or they will be filtered out for younger upcoming talent.
“If you are not looking to keep getting better as a player your career is probably over. Guys continue to come in and get better. There are better college players who come and want to take your job,” Savage said. “I’ve definitely improved every year, but I still feel like I haven’t had not a breakout year, but a year I am capable of having, so I am still striving to get there and hoping to improve every year, and really as a team we are improving so that makes me better as a player.”
With the 2013 NASL season just getting kicked off there are a few changes in the rules that will greatly impact the league. There are no longer playoffs at the end of the season. There will just be a final between the two teams at the top of the standings. That puts more pressure on the teams to do well during regular season play.
“You have to be in first place to go to the final, so it is much harder. There is more emphasis on each game.”
With the help of Savage, the Rowdies will look to win back-to-back championships for the first time in NASL history. And this time he won’t have to worry about the semifinals getting in the way.