TAMPA, Fla. – When midfielder Lewis Hilton moved to the U.S. to play NCAA soccer 11 years ago, he set out to play at the highest level the country has to offer.
With talks of the Tampa Bay Rowdies moving to the MLS heating up, he might just get his chance as soon as the start of the 2024 season.
The Newquay, U.K., native began playing soccer at age seven, idolizing his hero David Beckham in the early stages of his career.
After time in the youth academies of clubs such as Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City, Hilton began his illustrious NCAA career at Young Harris College, where he would eventually be inducted into the school’s athletics Hall of Fame.
With the success his Rowdies have found, as well as the suggestion for a new stadium to be built, a move to Major League Soccer and a dream opportunity for the Englishman may soon be on the horizon.
“That’s been my goal since I came to America, to play at the highest level I possibly could,” said Hilton, on the training pitch at the club’s facility. “If there’s ever an opportunity for me, I’d 100 per cent want to test myself there, I’d jump at it, to be honest.”
The two-time USL Eastern Conference champion feels that Major League Soccer is quickly advancing in terms of the quality of players and the resources available to them.
“Maybe people don’t respect (the MLS) to the level that it probably deserves,” said Hilton. “Every single year it’s gotten so much better, you’re seeing top players come play in America, and it’s not just older guys at the end of their careers.
“Facilities are getting better and the way clubs are run is getting better, it’s a good place to be.”
Tampa Bay manager Neill Collins showered the central midfielder with praise for a strong work ethic displayed since joining the club.
“Lewis Hilton epitomizes what we want out of a player, on and off the pitch,” said Collins in a scrum. “He’s the engine of our team, he’s definitely the type of character we want at this club.
“We’re so pleased to have him here.”