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Rowdies ink goalkeeper Connor Sparrow for new season

By Staff, 12/23/22, 3:00PM EST


Veteran joined by former Austin FC defender Freddy Kleeman as new arrivals as Al Lang Stadium

The Tampa Bay Rowdies have signed goalkeeper Connor Sparrow, who is approaching 100 appearances in the USL Championship for his career after spending the past two seasons with in-state rival Miami FC. | Photo courtesy Mallory Neil / Pittsburgh Riverhounds

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced on Friday the club had signed goalkeeper Connor Sparrow and defender Freddy Kleeman, bolstering the club’s defensive group for the 2023 USL Championship season. The signings are pending league and federation approval.

Sparrow joins the Rowdies having spent the past two seasons with in-state USL Championship rival Miami FC. The 28-year-old made 54 appearances for Miami across the regular season and playoffs overall and this past campaign posted a goals-against average of 0.91 and a save percentage of 75.8 percent while recording 66 saves and 12 shutouts.

“Playing against Connor, you knew he was a fierce competitor,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “He’s always caught my eye with his personality and his keenness to win, which I do like. On top of that, he’s a very good goalkeeper. He’s good with his feet. He makes important saves and I think he’s at a really good age for a goalkeeper. We’re delighted to have him and, like all these players coming to Tampa Bay, his desire to be here is a big part of that as well. We want players that want to be here for all the right reasons. Connor certainly exhibited those attributes.”

A native of St. Louis, Mo., Sparrow has made 93 appearances in the Championship between the regular season and playoffs in his career, logging 8,449 minutes of action and 288 saves. Prior to joining Miami, he competed for Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire FC, while also logging prior stints in the Championship at Nashville SC and Real Monarchs SLC after being selected in the Fourth Round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to be in the discussion at the end of the year in the last week of the season,” said Sparrow. “I think joining the Rowdies is a great opportunity for that. I think I can contribute to the team on the field and off the field in the locker room as well.

“I’m really just excited to get an opportunity to compete, make a playoff run, and push for a championship. I’m a competitor, I’m very intense. I play to win every game, whether it’s an outright game or it’s in training. I show up every day and I try to be at my best and push myself to be my best knowing that come Saturday that’s the default.”

New Tampa Bay Rowdies signing Freddy Kleeman spent time on loan with Birmingham Legion FC from Major League Soccer's Austin FC over the past two seasons. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC

Kleemann joins Tampa Bay having spent the last two seasons under contract with Major League Soccer’s Austin FC. The 23-year-old also enjoyed two loan spells with USL Championship club Birmingham Legion FC the last two years, starting in Birmingham’s 2022 season opener against the Rowdies before his season was cut short by an ACL injury the following week.

“Looking back on it now, it really motivates me to go out and play again and enjoy playing soccer,” said Kleemann. “I think Tampa Bay is a place I can do that. I really miss playing, and miss winning especially, because that’s one of the best feelings there is. I’m looking forward to playing games, having fun, but also winning. I think my injury puts that in perspective, how important it is to enjoy what you’re doing. Doing it at a high level is one of the best feelings there is.”

Kleemann played college soccer at the University of Washington, helping the Huskies record 12 shutouts in 19 appearances during the 2019 season. Austin FC selected him with the no. 11 pick in the First Round of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft. In his first year as a professional, Kleemann made three appearances for Austin and two appearances during a short loan stint with Birmingham.

“Freddy was very unfortunate when he picked up his injury last year because he’d had a very good performance against us on the opening day,” said Collins. “I saw him at the MLS Combine a couple of years earlier and he caught my eye with how composed he was on the ball, his dominance in the air, and how he read the game very well.

“Freddy’s got all the top attributes to be a top center back, but he definitely needs to build himself back up coming off a serious injury. We think that we can help him do that. Our expectations are high but certainly we need to start with just getting him back playing and enjoying it.”

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