ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Practising on the freshly cut grass in the heat of the afternoon sun, midfielder Alex Morrell looks right at home on the soccer pitch with his new teammates.
Perhaps because he is.
Traded to the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the United Soccer League from the Chicago Fire in December of last year, Morrell’s excitement to be back in his home state is unmistakeable.
“I get to have my parents, my friends, my family at every game and it gives me that extra motivation,” he said. “I get to see them after every game with smiles on their face telling me good job, so I like having them there.”
Selected 22nd overall in the first round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Morrell became the first University of North Florida men’s soccer player to be taken by a professional team.
He continues to receive support from his former coach at UNF, Derek Marintos, who spoke highly of Morrell.
“(He) is considered by myself and his (former) teammates to be an incredibly loyal person,” wrote Marintos, in an email. “When a team or organization commits to him he is all in for that organization.”
Working closely with his new coaches, Morrell now has the freedom to use his skills as he sees fit across the field.
“I knew what I could do best and they (coaches) appreciated it,” he said. “Ever since day one they were telling me ‘you know we want you here, we need you here’, so it helped (to adjust).”
With the help of a strong veteran core, including goalkeeper Matt Pickens and captain Tamika Mkandawire, Morrell receives advice both on and off the pitch to further enhance his skills.
Asked what goals he had for the upcoming season, Morrell said he took some time at the beginning of the year to think it through.
“I want to get back to my roots, get back to playing, getting a lot of minutes in,” he said. “Assisting the team as best I can — that’s my goal.”
The Rowdies season begins with a home-opener on March 25 against Orlando City B at Al Lang Stadium.