Sex, Drugs, & 13 Minutes of Carlton Cole
We only learned one thing from Carlton Cole's 13 minute cameo in another drab 0-0 draw (read my gamer here) for Sacramento Republic FC Saturday: the former EPL striker isn't match fit.
The Republic are currently in excellent form, riding a seven match unbeaten streak to the top of the Western Conference standings, two points ahead of second place Rio Grande Valley Toros with just four matches left to play.
On one hand, the small amount of games left means that Sacramento have an excellent shot at locking up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, meaning home-field advantage until at least a possible USL final.
On the other hand, Carlton Cole has just four games to get match fit and mesh with the other players on the team before a possible championship run.
After suffering from a dearth of strikers for much of the season, the Republic have seemingly endless wealth up top with the addition of Cole. 11-goal scorer Cameron Iwasa will no doubt be the first name on the team sheet for the near future, but who will join him up top?
The answer may be "everyone," if the match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 Saturday is any indicator of the future. Not only did head coach Paul Buckle put Carlton Cole onto the field, but Cole was joined by substitutes Harry Williams, Mackenzie Pridham, and Wilson Kneeshaw as the side desperately looked for a winner.
When a reporter asked about Buckle putting four forwards onto the field at the same time, the coach first corrected the reporter (it was five) before saying: "Yeah, I had five strikers on. I think I scared the life out of our staff tonight...they said, 'What are you doing? We're controlling the game?' Normally in a game like that, when you dominate the game with so many chances, it flips on you so I wanted to change the dynamic. And I felt at the end we looked like the team most likely to score."
Dominate they did, out-shooting the visitors 17-7, but the difference was not so great in another key statistic: shots on goal. For all the attempts, Sacramento put just two shots on goal to Vancouver's one.
While Iwasa hit the woodwork twice, it was Cole who came close to scoring, nearly toe-poking the ball home from inside the six-yard box late in the game.
It's too early to tell what kind of impact Cole will have on the Republic, but he certainly said all the right things when I spoke to him last Thursday at the fan meet and greet at de Vere's in Sacramento.
"The city's great," Cole said. "I just felt that I wanted a change in my life...my agent presented the club to me and said, 'I think it would be a good idea.' I said, 'Okay, I trust him.' They showed me all the plans on what they wanted to do and I bought into it."
While Cole is only currently signed through the end of the season, his comments spoke to perhaps a longer stay in Sacramento, or at least somewhere in the United States.
"I've always wanted to play across the pond," he said. "I feel it was a good idea for me to start somewhere. The club has great aspirations...I want to grow with the club and try to help the youth as well. It's not for now, but for the future as well. I want to try to progress the future of football over here if I can."
For now though, the former English international is still getting adjusted to California lifestyle. When I asked him if he'd been to our state before, he replied that he'd only been to Los Angeles a few times. "We don't consider LA part of California," joked Republic vice president of communications Erika Bjork, prompting laughs from Cole.
At the time of the interview, Cole was still adjusting to the time difference, insinuating that he had fallen asleep while watching Sacramento's 1-0 victory over the Orange County Blues last Wednesday. Still, he at least said that he liked what he saw.
"It's good, it's very good," Cole said about the quality of play. "Obviously it's not the United Kingdom or the Premier League, but the sport is growing and that's what we need to do, so if we get more players like myself recognizing the league and get players that can help cultivate the youth as well, because I think there's a lot of potential in the youth here.
"If you guys played football and took it really, really seriously, you guys would dominate the world because you've got so many athletes here. You've got so many players to pick from. It would be unbelievable. I want to be a part of that."
Meanwhile, one player who did make an impact on Saturday's match was new signing and UC Davis graduate Elliott Hord, who played 77 minutes before Cole replaced him.
Ever since star Emrah Klimenta went down with an ACL tear, the Republic have been forced to provide stop-gap solutions at right back. With Hord, though, it looks like they may have found a permanent solution should Klimenta leave when his contract expires at the end of the season.
It's still early, but Hord proved promising both offensively and defensively for the Republic. "I thought Elliott was fantastic for his debut," Buckle said after the match. "I think we've found a real player there."
Before I spoke to Cole at de Vere's, I got a chance to meet Hord, who couldn't have been more joyous to finally sign a professional deal in the United States after stints with the Fresno Fuego and in the fifth division in Sweden.
"I have friends still [in Davis] saying, 'I'm going to become a season ticket holder,' even if it's the last four games, I may not play, but it's nice to have my friends supporting me still," Hord said.
Hord made his debut off the bench in the win against the Blues, playing against former Aggie teammate Matt Sheldon, part of a growing trend of UC Davis professionals that includes San Jose Earthquakes forward Quincy Amarikwa and Puerto Rico FC defender Ramon Martin Del Campo.
"I think a lot of us had the skill, but maybe lacked that work rate," Hord said. "I think [UC Davis head coach Dwayne Shaffer] did a good job of really, keep grinding, keep pushing, keep pushing. I think all those guys, that was their goal, to play professionally."
With a good program in the area like UC Davis, the Republic may have a future pipeline to the first team if players aren't ready at the end of their academy careers. This can be seen now with former Sacramento academy player Nabi Kibunguchy, who played 81 minutes at holding midfielder in the Aggie's season-opening 0-0 draw against San Jose State.
Naturally, Hord attended the game along with Republic forward Christian Chaney. We may not fully understand how the academy will help the first team for Sacramento, but that certainly can't be a bad sign.