Santiago Castaneda (left) and Tate Johnson (right) are set to rejoin the Tampa Bay Rowdies as USL Academy signings for the upcoming USL Championship season. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced on Friday the return for a second season of defenders Tate Johnson and Santiago Castaneda as USL Academy signings for the 2023 USL Championship season.
Johnson and Castaneda made their professional debuts with the Rowdies last year, entering as substitutes in the club’s victory against The Villages SC in the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup. The 17-year-olds then went on to earn minutes for the Rowdies in the USL Championship regular season.
“Last year, both Tate and Santi came in to supplement training and to see how they fit in at the level and both of them showed great progression throughout the season,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “This preseason, they’re really fighting for their place on the team just like every other player on our squad. The fact that they’re on an academy contract doesn’t really change things when it comes to team selection. The best players will play, and both these players are pushing to be part of the squad on the field.”
As USL Academy signings, Johnson and Castaneda are eligible to play in professional matches for the Rowdies while maintaining their college eligibility. Johnson, a member of Tampa Bay United’s youth system, has committed to play his college soccer at the University of North Carolina. Castaneda, a player with Florida Premier FC, has committed to play for the University of Michigan.
“I’m glad I was able to get the opportunity from Coach Collins and the coaching staff,” said Castaneda. “I loved last season and the way the group of guys brought me in as one of them and the way they treated me. I learned so much, so I’m just excited to enter this season and continue pushing through and get with the new group of guys that’s coming in and just fight for a chance to play.”
Johnson impressed Collins and the coaching staff enough last year to earn a starting nod in Tampa Bay’s win against Loudoun United FC in the penultimate match of the regular season. Additionally this past November he played a notable role as Tampa Bay United won the 2022 USL Academy League Playoffs while being voted to the All-Tournament Team.
“I’m super excited to be able to sign this contract and just really excited to get to work here,” said Johnson. “I feel like this year I’m coming in more hungry, ready to fight for a position, put in the hard work in preseason, and come away with more minutes than last year.”