Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
Coming up on a year since he was unveiled as the highest-profile signing in the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ modern history, former England midfielder Joe Cole is feeling right at home in his new surroundings in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.
A guest on USL Coast to Coast on SiriusXM FC (Ch. 85) on Monday night, Cole spoke with Michael Watts about the current chapter of his career, and the success he’s helped the Rowdies find in their first season in the USL.
“It’s a wonderful place to live and it’s a wonderful place to play football as well,” Cole said of downtown St. Petersburg. “I live a walk from the stadium, so it’s great, especially the home games. You soak up the atmosphere, everyone looks like they’re having a great time, and the fans have turned out for us. If we can keep the wins coming as well, and keep the fans coming in, it’s going to be great for all fronts.”
Cole has shown he’s lost none of the touch and feel for the game that saw him compete at two World Cups and claim three Premier League championships with Chelsea earlier in his career. The 35-year-old holds an 89.3 percent pass completion percentage overall, and 87.9 percentage in the opposition’s half, helping link up Tampa Bay’s attack on the way to a 3-1-0 start.
The Rowdies are in the middle of a testing spell, with a narrow 2-1 loss to Louisville this past Saturday, followed by a visit to FC Cincinnati in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3 on Wednesday night, and then a home clash with the in-form Charleston Battery at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday.
“We started off with the three home games and we wanted to take at least seven points out of it. We managed to win all three games, which was excellent, good performances in all three games,” said Cole. “We were unfortunate at the weekend, I felt, not to get a point out the game against a real good team in difficult conditions. We’re happy with the start. It’s another tricky away game Wednesday, and we’ll see the strength of the squad this week. We’ll maybe have to change it around a little bit with three games in a week, but we’ll see what we’ve got.”
Cole is one of a number of high-profile players to currently compete in the USL, with the newest addition being his former Chelsea teammate Didier Drogba of Phoenix Rising FC. Drogba – who is expected to arrive in Arizona this week – joins another former Chelsea standout in Shaun Wright-Phillips and Omar Bravo – Chivas de Guadalajara’s all-time leading scorer – with Rising FC. Cole believes the arrival of players with this name recognition is indicative of the direction of the sport as a whole in North America.
“I think you can see what’s happening here. You can see the excitement and the growth it’s generating, particularly in the younger generation,” said Cole. “It’s obviously right for [Drogba] to come out here and jump in with a project down in Phoenix. You’re attracting players all over the country from east to west coast, up and down, the Canadian teams as well. It’s a real positive moment, and I’m sure Didier will be successful whatever he decides to do.”
While it may be a long way off right now, the idea of a reunion between the former teammates in the USL Cup Final in November is certainly an exciting one. With the Rowdies already in solid contention for a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference, Cole is looking forward to what the rest of the season holds.
“I think we’re not being presumptuous. We clearly want to win the championship. We’re not going to hide behind anything else. We want to go out there and win the championship,” Cole said. “First things first, we need to carry on winning games, and we know if we were to win three out of every four games this season we’d comfortably make the playoffs, and then I’m excited for that side of the American sports where it’s all riding on the playoffs. It’s a new thing for me, but I’m excited about it.”
Joe Cole’s full interview with Michael Watts on USL Coast to Coast can be heard via SiriusXM FC’s website. USL Coast to Coast airs weekly on SiriusXM FC (Ch. 85) at 9 p.m. ET every Monday night.