ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (December 23, 2014) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies announced the signing of young attacking prospect Darwin Espinal to his first professional contract on Tuesday. Per club and league policy, contract details were not disclosed.
Espinal, 19, has spent the past two seasons at Darton State College in Albany, Georgia. At Darton, Espinal was one of the premier players in the National Junior College Athletic Association. He was a 1st-Team All-American in both of his two seasons with the Cavaliers, where he helped the team win the Region 17 Championship Title in 2014.
As a freshman in 2013, Espinal scored 23 goals and notched 10 assists in 16 games. As strong as his freshman campaign was, his sophomore season was even better. In 2014, he scored 29 goals and tallied 19 assists in 19 games. None of his collegiate goals came from the penalty spot. He holds the school record in both goals and points.
Rowdies head coach Thomas Rongen, the former United States Under-20 Men's National Team coach, has a track record of success discovering young prospects. His finds have included Men's National Team and Major League Soccer stars Clint Dempsey and Ricardo Clark.
"Not too many people knew of Clint Dempsey before I introduced him to the Under-20 National Team," Rongen said. "He played at Furman University and never played for the youth national teams. Dempsey has achieved this phenomenal success with New England, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspurs and now Seattle."
"Darwin is a young prospect with a lot of potential," said Rongen. "I don't expect him to contribute right away, but I feel he's a player with a lot of upside and flair. Clearly, he can put the ball in the back of the net. His stats reflect that. It's just a matter of us of giving him time to adjust to this level."
Originally from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Espinal played high school soccer at Taravella High School in Broward County, where he was the 2012-2013 Class 5A-4A High School Soccer Player of the Year. At the same time, he led his club team, Plantation FC, to win the Florida State Cup Championship and, ultimately, a spot in the Region III Championship. Espinal was named Most Valuable Player in that national tournament and was selected to the Best XI.
"This signing shows that our scouting network works both internationally and domestically," Rongen said. "Not too many people scout the NAIA or in junior colleges. We feel there is a large pool of talent there, so we're doing our due diligence."