Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder Marcel Schäfer will make the 490th and final appearance of his professional career on Friday night when the Rowdies take on Penn FC at Al Lang Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) as he begins the second stage of his illustrious career as the new Sporting Director at VfL Wolfsburg ahead of the Bundesliga’s new season this fall.
Having made more than 250 appearances in Germany’s top flight, and more than 30 appearances in European competition that included 11 appearances in the UEFA Champions League, the pedigree Schäfer brought to Tampa Bay was well known, but in his time at the club the 2017 USL All-League First Team selection produced numerous magnificent moments for the Rowdies.
“It is very hard for me to not be emotional when talking about my final match,” said Schäfer ahead of Friday’s game and the end of an era. “Coming to the Rowdies and the Tampa Bay Rowdies has been a gift to my family. We love everything about this area and everyone has been so amazing with us. I can’t wait to fight for my final three points of my career, alongside my amazing teammates who I consider very good friends.”
As Rowdies hope for one more curtain call on Friday night at Al Lang Stadium, here are five of the best moments from Schäfer's stint in Tampa Bay.
Schäfer introduced himself to a national audience in some style as Tampa Bay visited Cincinnati for the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 with a 35-yard rocket that set the stage for what was to come over the rest of the season. Schäfer’s strike also landed at No. 2 on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 that night, which wouldn’t be the last time that happened in the season.
While it was his goals that caught major attention, the biggest influence Schäfer provided on the Rowdies’ success was his ability to set up chances for others. He finished tied for second in the league with 11 assists, and finished the regular season with 57 chances created, tied for eight in the league. This cross to set up a diving header by Martin Paterson was one of his best helpers of the season.
Schäfer’s powerful finish against Saint Louis FC didn’t quite get the acclaim some of his other finishes did throughout the season, but it epitomized the player that helped drive the Rowdies to become the sixth-highest scoring side in the league. Making a positive break forward into space before rifling a precise shot home into the right corner was a lot of what made Schäfer so special for Tampa Bay.
The 34-year-old made the Rowdies’ regular-season home finale one to remember with an outstanding finish that helped Tampa Bay claim a 3-2 victory against the New York Red Bulls II. As with his strike against FC Cincinnati at the start of the season, the blast landed Schäfer on the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 that night as he brought the house down before Ralph’s Mob.
The Rowdies’ game with FC Cincinnati was one of the most anticipated of the opening weekend of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, but Schäfer made the game a signature moment for his time at the club with two goals in the opening 25 minutes that led Tampa Bay to victory in emphatic fashion.