It’s finally settled in. After three weeks of celebrating with my Tampa Bay teammates and friends, and spending the offseason in Seattle with family, I now realize what this all means.
It means we have the opportunity to repeat as NASL Champions and defend our title. Now that I have gathered my thoughts and had time to reflect on our Championship season I can now share these thoughts.
Following (I hope) a serious edit, here are those thoughts:
Winning the North American Soccer League Championship and being crowned the 2012 NASL Champions is a moment that will never escape my mind.
As I reflect on a season filled with adversity and the uphill battle our team endured in its quest to capture the title, I can’t help but think that this experience is monumental in my career and the careers of my fellow teammates.
I was very fortunate and grateful to capture the PDL National Championship with the Kitsap Pumas in 2011. Winning a second title on a professional level puts it all in perspective on how difficult it is to actually win a championship.
I’d like to believe most people affiliated with any sport understand the difficulties to win at any level, let alone a professional one.
There are so many aspects and nuances required for a team to be successful for an entire season.
From my experience; injuries, transfer window and finding the continuity and identity of the team are all components that can hinder a team’s performance throughout the season.
I guess the old adage ‘it’s not how you start it’s how you finish’ resonates when I think of how our team struggled during the first portion of the season but later found the momentum and cohesion needed to carry us through deep into the playoffs.
I vividly recall watching my brother Zach and his teammates celebrate two USL First Division titles with the Seattle Sounders and telling myself how great it would be if I can live in that moment.
For it to happen and to experience the joy with teammates, coaches, our organization and fans reminds me to never take things in life for granted and to live in the moment and enjoy it.
Looking at proven winners like Danny Jackson, Taylor Graham and my brother as players I would try to emulate when coming out of college I did my best to recognize and learn from the characteristics each possessed in contributing to their teams’ success.
I look at Tampa Bay Coach Ricky Hill as an individual who is a walking testament of success after coaching and playing both domestically and internationally for his country of England.
His coaching methods are simple. Play with simplicity and earn the right to play. Those two elements factor into everything you do on the pitch. Ricky has a way of recognizing every nuance and discrepancy while the game is being played and demands perfection from his players.
He constantly speaks throughout the game demanding the best out of his players. We as players know when we are not pulling our weight. We know when we’ve had a bad first half.
Although it’s frustrating at times as a player to be told you’re looking sluggish in training or in games, being told is beneficial because it keeps players honest and helps avoid complacency. Successful coaches know how to and when to communicate effectively when necessary.
However in the end, it’s up to the players. Once we are on the pitch, the coach can only yell and say so much.
Taking responsibility and ownership for decisions made on and off the field is all part of being a good professional. In addition, all great title winning sides have leaders. On our pitch we had several veterans with experience and leadership.
The likes of Frankie Sanfillippo, Takuya Yamada, Jeff Attinella and Stuart Campbell all did their part in ensuring the team was focused in training and in games.
After the first leg in Minnesota, Tampa Bay trailed 2-0. Discouraged and disappointed with our result we knew we were more than capable of putting together a complete performance at home and getting the result we deserved. Our coach told us the week leading up to the final leg of the series that if we manage to defend properly as a team, play with simplicity, have complete focus and concentration and we earn the right to play we were going to win.
I began to believe we were invincible but of course at 2-0 down, there is no danger of complacency. I thought of my experience with Kitsap last year and remembered what winning felt like.
By the time my team mate Takuya Yamada was ruled out of the home leg I knew I was playing and began mentally preparing during training leading up to the home finale. I was confident to play before the whistle blew and I could feel the confidence resonate throughout the team.
We dominated the first half and had several opportunities to score but only managed to score one. Down 2-1 on aggregate we knew they would put more numbers in their defensive third and rely heavily on the counter attack in the second half.
As expected they came at us with a second half fury and used their speed on the wings to try and get in behind us. Our defensive unit managed to do a good job of communicating and limiting their shot attempts in dangerous areas.
After a back and forth second half we managed to put away two goals and level the series 3-3 on aggregate. After a scoreless thirty minute overtime period we were onto penalty kicks. Fortunately, our guys stepped up and made several key shots and our NASL Best XI goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, came up with some massive saves in propelling us to victory.
Now I’m looking forward to heading back to Florida where I can help contribute to the defense of our league title.
Finally, I want to thank all the support I received from the Pacific Northwest throughout our cup run.
I couldn’t say it any better than Washington State native Raphael Cox did the day after the final, so let me close by quoting him:
“This is an incredible feeling. These moments are what we train for, what we dream of. I’m so happy for my team mates, the fans and all my friends and family in Washington State who have been supporting me. I’ll be bringing my medal home on my next visit for sure!”
And we did!
Cascadians Celebrate Tampa Bay Success (plus gallery by Matt May)