If there was any concern that former English Premier League standout Carlton Cole might come in with an ego to match his lofty playing reputation, it was quickly put to rest in his first day with Republic FC on Tuesday morning.
A sweaty Cole, getting his first taste of Sacramento’s summer heat, participated in a standing team initiation by stepping into the middle of a players’ circle and giving a rousing rendition of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” that impressed more than his teammates.
“Very good, actually,” said coach Paul Buckle, admitting he doesn’t know much about Kelly’s body of work.
I’m happy to be here, and hopefully I take to the club and the fans take to me, too, as I give 100 percent effort on the field.
New Republic FC player Carlton Cole
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But Buckle knows plenty about Cole, the imposing 6-foot-3 former Chelsea and West Ham United player who spent 15 years competing at the highest levels of United Kingdom soccer. Cole, 32, has scored 86 goals, including 55 in EPL play.
“It’s fantastic to see somebody of Cole’s caliber arrive … in a crucial time of the season,” Buckle said. “He’s a lot bigger in the flesh than on TV. He has a great smile, and I think already he is enjoying the weather. ... We have Cole at his stage in his career where we feel he can add a lot of value to us, and I think he’s a grounded guy. I think he’ll enjoy his time both on and off the field.”
After a delay of a week trying to get travel documents, Cole arrived in Sacramento from the United Kingdom late Monday night. He conditioned along the sideline while Republic FC (11-6-7, 40 points) trained in preparation for Wednesday night’s USL match at the Orange County Blues FC (10-11-4, 34 points).
Cole will not travel with the team to Irvine. He will continue to condition Wednesday and Thursday in Sacramento before he is expected to join his teammates in a full training session Friday. Buckle said he could play Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 at Bonney Field.
“I’m trying to get in with the boys straight away and make up for lost time,” Cole said.
Cole watched video of Republic FC’s most recent match, a 4-0 win over the visiting Portland Timbers 2 on Saturday.
He was pleased to see fellow Englishman and former Middlesbrough FC Academy standout Wilson Kneeshaw score in his Sacramento debut.
“That’s what I want to do. I want to emulate him,” Cole said. “I’m happy to be here, and hopefully I take to the club and the fans take to me, too, as I give 100 percent effort on the field.”
Republic FC doesn’t need to rush Cole to have him eligible for the postseason should it qualify as one of the eight teams from the Western Conference.
The team received clarification on a rule that a player has to appear in five regular-season games to be eligible for the postseason. That rule applies only to loan players and was designed to prevent USL teams from loading up on Major League Soccer players once the playoffs started.
I’m trying to get in with the boys straight away and make up for lost time.
New Republic FC player Carlton Cole
Blues face allegation – Orange County is the subject of a USL investigation into an accusation a Blues FC player used an anti-gay slur against Robbie Rogers during Saturday’s match while the openly gay midfielder was playing on loan for LA Galaxy II.
Rogers, rehabilitating from an Achilles’ tendon injury, talked about the incident on a Facebook post after the game.
“In the heat of the last 15 minutes of the game a player from the opposing team called me a ‘queer’ repeatedly,” Rogers wrote. “To be honest my initial reaction was one of shock. This is my fourth season back in the MLS and I’ve yet to hear another player use that or any other gay slur during a game.”
The USL said Sunday it will discuss the incident with the players from both teams and the referees who worked the match.
“The USL has zero tolerance for homophobic or other intolerant behavior,” the league said in a statement.