Photo Credit: Matt May - Tampa Bay Rowdies


Former MLS star takes NASL by storm


“I love being in Tampa.  I would be happy to be here for years.”

Those are the words of Tampa Bay Rowdies defender Blake Wagner, arguably one of the top players in all of the NASL. 

It’s been a long journey for the 26-year-old who found his way to the NASL after playing with three MLS teams.  He would spend time with fellow NASL side San Antonio Scorpions before signing with the Rowdies on Dec. 30, 2013.

Wagner was a star of the U.S. national team program, excelling at the U-17, U-20, and U-23 levels. This included time as a starter at the Youth World Cup in Peru in 2005.

“I got to play with the best players from around the world.  It helped me gauge where I was and allowed me to be part of a professional environment.”

Wagner credits his rapid development as a player to former bosses John Hackworth and John Ellinger.  He noted many positives about the duo, especially their prowess at developing professional players that have strong technical ability. 

His early success with the national team led him to be selected by FC Dallas in the second round of the 2006 MLS SuperDraft. He would remain with the Hoops from 2006-2009.  Wagner would have his best season in Dallas in 2008 as he started 23 games and made four appearances in international friendlies. 

He would then be snatched up by the Vancouver Whitecaps FC before eventually signing with Real Salt Lake. 

He would make his NASL debut in 2012, joining the Scorpions for two seasons.  He would play in 47 matches, scoring three goals. 

Photo Credit: Matt May - Tampa Bay Rowdies

Being a veteran of both leagues has given him a unique perspective.  He hasn’t noticed much of a difference between the quality of the two leagues.  He said that the standard of play is comparable, but MLS teams have the benefit of deeper squads and larger rosters.  However, Wagner was quick to point out that there were “many guys from the NASL that could play in MLS.”

His time in MLS did teach him to take nothing for granted. 

“You were always playing for your job and your position.  You had to work extremely hard every day as there was always someone ready to take your job.” 

Simply put, there are no days off in the world of professional soccer.  This came as no surprise to Wagner, a player always known for his incredible work ethic. 

The Rowdies saw something special in the homegrown Tampa native and brought him onto their squad for the 2014 season.  He has not disappointed, becoming a leader on a talented squad. 

Wagner is crystal clear when discussing his goal sand expectations for the season.

“Personally I want to play and contribute.  We want to make the playoffs and ultimately we all want to win a championship.”

He is also aware of the bigger picture, which is getting the Rowdies brand back in the limelight. 

“Everyone remembers the Rowdies from the 70s.  We’re just trying to get back to that level.”

Doing so is no picnic as the “old” Rowdies had global superstars like Rodney Marsh and current GM Perry Van der Beck.  They also shared an intense rivalry with the New York Cosmos that once drew a crowd of 75,000 to Giants Stadium in 1978. 

The newest incarnation of the Rowdies has done all the right things, taking care of business on and off the field.  Being involved in the community has been a major priority, one that Wagner particularly enjoys. 

“We have great fans, a ton of which are kids.  We do a good job interacting with them and giving back to the community.”

Fans and supporters of the Rowdies should enjoy seeing Wagner while they can.  You just never know when that call will come again with an offer from an MLS team.  That sure will be a difficult decision for the young and talented Blake Wagner, one of the true professionals of the beautiful game.