NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies players have come and gone, but Frankie Sanfilippo remains.
Sanfilippo, the Rowdies’ defensive rock and captain, made his 100th official appearance (league and U.S. Open Cup matches only) for the club Saturday night in a topsy-turvy 4-3 road win over the Carolina RailHawks.
“To me, being with the club for 100 games is just an unbelievable accomplishment,” Sanfilippo said. “In my career, I’ve only ever been with a club for two or three years, but I just feel like this team is my home. It’s been really nice and I’ve enjoyed all four years.”
Sanfilippo, in his fourth year with the Rowdies, is the second player to join the century club. Takuya Yamada became the first to reach the milestone last year.
As a sign of how long Sanfilippo has been with the Rowdies, consider that Sanfilippo’s first match in green and gold was against the Montreal Impact. Montreal is currently playing its third season in Major League Soccer. The San Antonio Scorpions, Ottawa Fury, New York Cosmos and Indy Eleven didn’t yet exist.
“My first game was against Montreal at home,” Sanfilippo said. “I remember it well. It was the team’s first game at Al Lang Stadium and Yamada scored the winning goal. That was a great win. I remember the feeling of walking out at Al Lang for the first time. We’ve got San Antonio in the league now. The Cosmos are in the league. Ottawa and Indy are here. There are more and more teams coming in and I think it’s great for the NASL.”
Sanfilippo, a father of two, isn’t the loudest player on the team. He takes his role as captain very seriously. At practice, he helps to lead stretches, team runs or drills. On matchdays, it’s hard to get more than a few words out of him, such is the intensity of his pregame focus. He isn’t particularly vocal on the field either, but he’s a player that his teammates look to for advice. He’s one of only two Rowdies that has played every minute of action this season.
“He’s our captain,” fellow defender JP Rodrigues said. “He’s the heart and soul behind this team. Every Saturday, we expect Frankie to be there. He’s our guy. He is actually kind of a quiet guy on the pitch, but he leads by example. You watch how he plays, getting into tackles or making an 80-yard run in the 90th minute to get back into the box and make the game-saving tackle, and that’s just what he does. We try to do as Frankie does. Some leaders are more vocal or they want to tell you what to do. Frankie isn’t like that. He shows you what to do.”
When Sanfilippo arrived in Tampa Bay in 2011, his oldest son, Frankie Jr., was only six months old. He and his wife Malissa welcomed younger son Dominic into the family last year.
With a growing family in the Tampa Bay area, Sanfilippo is slowly starting to think of himself not only as a Californian, but as a Floridian as well.
“This is home for me and I’m enjoying it,” Sanfilippo said. “Frankie Jr. is growing up and learning about Tampa Bay. He’s getting older and starting to learn about the game and it’s been really exciting for me, my wife and my family to be a part of this organization. I have to admit, Tampa Bay has gained some ground. I enjoy this place. I love the beaches and weather. Tampa and St. Petersburg have been great to me.”
With his 100th appearance in the books, Sanfilippo now looks forward all the way to his 101st appearance. He takes the season game-by-game, but said he thinks the Rowdies may have turned a corner with their massive result in Carolina and that they’re now ready to welcome the New York Cosmos to Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night for a pivotal showdown.
“In the short term, I think we’re playing well,” he said. “That was a huge win in Carolina because not many people get a road win there. It was a great result for us. We have another huge game Saturday night against the Cosmos. The Tampa Bay Rowdies are just getting bigger and better. With Bill Edwards coming on board, things are great.”
Sanfilippo’s milestone appearance will be celebrated Saturday night with a special pregame ceremony.