Rowdies: Best foot forward

Ken Blankenship
Date Published: 
St. Petersburg Times

The Tampa Bay Rowdies will have Clyde Best in the lineup Friday, and from all indications, they'll need him.

Depended upon to become the Rowdies' leading scorer during the expansion franchise's first North American Soccer League season, Best will play in his first game against the Washington Diplomats Friday night at a high school field in Fairfax, Va.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Bermudian was unavailable for the first two Rowdies' games, both of them victories at Tampa Stadium, while playing for West Ham United in the English League FA Cup finals. West Ham won it all last Saturday, and Best can now suit up for the Rowdies.

AND THE Tampa Bay squad will need all the extra manpower it can muster against the Diplomats, who aren't the same club Suncoast fans saw the Rowdies beat 7-2 in the indoor tournament in February at Bayfront Center Arena.

Since then the Diplomats have acquired Randy Horton, the seventh leading all-time scorer in the NASL. Horton, the league's Most Valuable Player and top scorer while leading the New York Cosmos to a league title in 1972, is also from Bermuda, and he and Best were once teammates on Bermuda's National Team.

The Diplomats, like the Rowdies, are a surprising 2-0. But the Diplomats are one point ahead of the Rowdies in the Eastern standings. They trekked to Texas last weekend, and between 7:30 p.m. Friday and 9:30 p.m. Saturday had registered a pair of 2-0 triumphs over San Antonio and Dallas, the last one an upset.

They were sparked by Irish national star Peter Thomas, who was named goalkeeper of the week for his two shutouts. Horton scored a goal in the victory over Dallas.

The Diplomats feature Irish defender Tom McConville, crack English forward Gerry Ingram, a pair of speedsters from Trinidad -- forward Leroy DeLeon and midfielder Michael Ian Bain -- and seven American lads, most notably defender Alain Maca and defender and team captain Brian Pillinger.

The NASL's Eastern Division, as forseen by some prophets, is proving itself as the toughest division in the league. Against outside opposition Eastern Division teams are 8-0, led by Miami's 4-0 slate. Tampa Bay and Washington are each 2-0.

Philadelphia is 1-0, but that victory was over fellow East competitor Baltimore. The Northern Division has but one victory among its five teams, and that was an intra-division triumph, Hartford's 1-0 win over Boston.

Ilija Mitic, who is currently the NASL's all-time leading scorer, obviously didn't wish to retire when he announced his retirement following the first game of the season with his Dallas Tornado squad. Instead, only his jersey "retired."

DAYS LATER Mitic was in a San Jose Earthquakes uniform and is second behind Miami's Steve David in league scoring this season with four goals for eight points.

Mitic, who had his Dallas jersey retired, said he was quitting and moving to San Francisco because of his wife's ill health.

But he must have been lured out of retirement by the 'Quakes, who are favored to win the Western Division.