Republic FC director of football Graham Smith calls the signing of former English Premier League standout Carlton Cole another milestone for the third-year franchise.
“It’s a great signing,” Smith said. “It’s a reflection of how Republic FC is perceived on the international soccer front now.”
Although one English newspaper called Republic FC an “obscure U.S. third division side” in reporting the former West Ham United star’s signing, Republic FC gets the physical, experienced 6-foot-3 forward it needs to make a late-season push to a USL championship.
Smith also said Cole’s presence and résumé of 86 career goals should be a huge benefit to the squad’s group of young forwards that includes 23-year-old Cameron Iwasa and 20-year-old Harry Williams.
He said they can learn much from the 32-year-old, 13-year EPL veteran who played at the top levels of United Kingdom soccer for 15 seasons.
But Smith said it’s also a huge risk for Cole, who wants to show Major League Soccer scouts that he can be an impact player. Cole was courted by MLS teams while at West Ham United and before he signed a two-year contract last year with Celtic FC. But he played in just five games for the Scottish Premiership team and was jettisoned by new manager Brendan Rodgers after one season, so Cole now is looking toward America to continue his career.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Smith said. “We’re getting the publicity, a proven goal scorer while providing Carlton a platform to show MLS what he can do. But it’s a massive gamble for Carlton.”
He’s coming aboard late in the season to a completely new culture in a league where there are a lot of young defenders trying to build reputations that they hope can propel them into MLS.
Cole hasn’t played since June, and has no experience of playing regularly in heat like Sacramento’s. He also will be expected to contribute almost immediately when he arrives in the U.S. on Monday. Republic FC will have seven regular-season games to play and Cole needs to play in at least five to qualify for the playoffs.
Coach Paul Buckle isn’t worried about Cole’s fitness or ability to fit in with the players.
“I’m sure someone like Carlton, although he has not played much football, will have a core fitness and muscle memory, and it doesn’t take too long to get going again,” Buckle said.
Smith and Buckle are England natives, both with a network of contacts in the U.K. But Buckle said he was shocked when he received an email from Cole’s agent about coming to Sacramento.
Buckle credited Smith for the deal’s success.
“Graham Smith has worked very hard to get this over the line,” Buckle said. “He has done 99 percent of the work to get Carlton here. I stressed to Graham we needed to add in the striker area, and we’ve done it.”
Smith said that Didier Drogba’s successful rehab sessions in Sacramento earlier in the season before rejoining the Montreal Impact also may have helped in nudging his former EPL teammate toward Republic FC.
Republic FC captain Danny Barrera said he looks forward to seeing what Cole can bring to a team that is in third place in the Western Conference as it prepares to play at Saint Louis on Saturday.
“I’m excited to meet him and see how he can help us,” Barrera said. “Obviously, he comes from a lot of experience, which is something you have to tip your hat to and to respect. But at the same time, we’re in the moment now. We need somebody to produce and, hopefully, he can do that for us.”
Cole won’t be Republic FC’s only late-season signing. Buckle has auditioned two players, one from England, that are likely to join Sacramento soon.
Odd timing – Republic FC will play a friendly against Liga MX Chivas de Guadalajara on Oct. 5 at Bonney Field.
But the match could come in the midst of the USL playoffs. If Republic FC makes the final eight and wins its Western Conference quarterfinal opener on Oct. 1, it likely would be preparing for a conference semifinal on Oct. 8.
But Buckle doesn’t see a problem with having potentially three matches in seven days.
“We feel we have a big enough squad to put that fixture into the schedule,” Buckle said. “It will be a huge test for us.”