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Rowdies Sign Cristian Ortiz to First Professional Contract

By Staff, 05/17/24, 11:00AM EDT


17-year-old becomes first Rowdies USL Academy signing to ink a professional deal

17-year-old forward Cristian Ortiz becomes the first player in Tampa Bay Rowdies history to turn pro with the club after previously having part of the First Team on a USL Academy contract. | Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced on Friday the club had signed 17-year-old forward Cristian Ortiz to his professional contract. Ortiz becomes the first Rowdies player to sign a professional contract with the club having previously competed as a USL Academy signing.

“Firstly, we’re all delighted for Cristian,” said Rowdies Head Coach Robbie Neilson. “His attitude has been outstanding throughout my time here. He’s come in for us on a USL Academy contract and now he’s progressed into the professional ranks through hard work. That’s the objective for all the young players on academy contracts here, but it’s also the dream of so many youth players throughout Tampa Bay. Hopefully, they see the Tampa Bay Rowdies as a real platform to earn these opportunities, to truly develop, and earn a professional contract. That’s the kind of club we want to be.”

Ortiz joined the Rowdies on a USL Academy contract a week before the start of the 2024 USL Championship season. The young forward made his professional debut in Tampa Bay’s win over Rhode Island FC on March 24 and has picked up two more league appearances since then. Ortiz also featured in the Rowdies dramatic win against Birmingham Legion FC in the Round of 32 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

“I’m so grateful to Coach Robbie and all the coaching staff for having faith in me and offering me this contract and helping me achieve this dream,” said Ortiz. “I couldn’t have done this without the help of my parents and all of my family, who have all helped me on this journey.”

Originally from White Plains, New York, Ortiz moved with his family to Tampa Bay at a young age. Ortiz played his club soccer locally with Florida Premier FC, where legendary Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov serves as a Director of Player Development. Former Rowdies defender Andres Arango has also guided Ortiz in his development as his coach at Florida Premier FC over the past two seasons.

“I hope kids at all levels in Tampa Bay see this and think they can be where I am someday,” said Ortiz. “Two years ago, I never could have imagined I would really be sitting here today as a professional soccer player. I only came in to train with the Rowdies for a couple of days at first, but I worked hard and this is where it all led to. You never know where opportunities will come from and where they’ll take you.”

This year, the Rowdies have put a stronger emphasis on highlighting and bringing top local youth into the fold. Including Ortiz, the club started the season with four USL Academy signings on the roster, the most the Rowdies have ever had at one time.

“This is a significant milestone for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, signing an impressive local talent in Cristian Ortiz to his first professional contract,” said USL Head of Global Football Development & Sporting Director Oliver Wyss. “In the past, youth clubs around the Tampa Bay area have provided a foundation for players to go on to high-level professional careers and compete at the youth and senior international level. The Rowdies are now providing a clear professional pathway for top prospects that will lead to rewarding player transfers similar to those we are seeing at clubs across the USL landscape.”

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