The Tampa Bay Strikers of the National Indoor Soccer League (NISL) kicked off their inaugural 16-game season in January. The team named former Buccaneers kicker and 2002 Super Bowl champion Martin Gramatica, head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams last July.
The team was one of two expansion teams added to the former three-team league after its first season in 2022. The Central Florida Crusaders in Orlando were the other team. Home games will be played at the Yuengling Center on the USF campus, and both teams are made up of roughly 20-25 athletes from the Tampa Bay area.
“When we started the search for our head coach, there were several qualities we were looking for in our candidates in addition to soccer experience: passion, leadership and a proven winning track record, plus someone committed to the Tampa Bay community,” Strikers co-owner Andrew Haines said in the introductory press conference in July 2022. “We feel Martin Gramatica has all of those characteristics and more.”
The 1997 Lou Groza Award winner jumped at the opportunity to coach the Strikers and is thrilled that the team will showcase local talent.
“Soccer is my passion,” said Gramatica. “I’ve been around and involved with soccer my whole life, so I was very excited for the opportunity, especially coaching for my hometown. To be able to give our local kids a chance to play at a high level is exciting.”
The former kicker and soccer player is impressed with his players’ work ethic, competitiveness and technical skills but knows that it takes more than that to be successful.
“At the end of the day, I always tell the players that the X’s and O’s and technicality don’t matter if you don’t have heart and passion for the game,” he said. “I believe we have the right group for that.”
The Super Bowl champion’s goal is for both teams to win a championship.
“I’ve said this from day one for both teams, there’s no excuses,” he said. “That’s one of the rules we had with coach Dungy: no excuses, no explanation. I don’t care if we’re an expansion team, I don’t care if we don’t have an indoor facility to practice in. We’re going to go compete and we’re going to go win. That’s the bottom line, you play sports to win, you don’t go to participate. We’re not giving out participation medals. We’re going to do whatever it takes to try to win the championship.”
The team’s full home schedule can be found on their website, www.tbstrikers.com.