ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (December 29, 2017) — Last season was a transitional one for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but club captain Joe Cole believes the lessons learned will pay dividends in the season to come.
It was the Rowdies’ first season as a member of the United Soccer League and with a reloaded roster, the learning curve was steep as everyone went through new experiences together.
While there will still be roster turnover — nine members of last year’s roster have been confirmed to return so far with more set to be announced next week — Cole is at least looking forward to having familiarity with opponents as he prepares for his third trip around the circuit with Tampa Bay.
“We know the league, we know the teams we’re facing, the cities we’re traveling to and what style of play we’re coming up against,” he said. “That will be a big help going into next season.”
In their first season in the USL, the Rowdies surged to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference, breaking a five-year postseason drought. After knocking off FC Cincinnati in the opening round of the playoffs, Tampa Bay was eliminated by New York Red Bulls II in an extra-time thriller.
Inspired by watching Louisville City FC finish the regular season atop the Eastern Conference and then march on to win the USL Cup, Cole says the target for next season is clear.
“We feel like we’re making steps in the right direction. We made the playoffs for the first time in a long time and we did it comfortably,” he said. “We got to the conference semifinals and were unfortunate to lose, so there’s a lot to work on but a lot of positives to take out of it. We need to put ourselves in a better position so that maybe we’re not running into a New York in that stage of the competition. We need to probably finish first, like Louisville did. We know what we have to do.”
While waiting for the 2018 season to come around, Cole has kept himself busy.
He created an Instagram account, which has offered a neat insight into his offseason plans. So far, he’s made appearances at Chelsea events, vacationed with his family in Lapland to see Santa and reindeer and teamed up with former Liverpool and England teammate Steven Gerrard for TV coverage of the Premier League, in addition to some coaching on the side.
From afar, Cole has stayed plugged into the Rowdies as the club has signed new players. Tampa Bay’s nine returning players have made a combined 297 competitive appearances for the Rowdies. That core group of veterans has been supplemented with new additions that bring youth, pace and more familiarity with the USL to the roster.
“We’ve signed some good players already,” Cole said. “Some good youngsters because we need legs. We nearly got the mix right last year between experience and youth. We have a lot of positives to take from our first year in the USL because we nearly got the mix right. The club is putting in the hard work now to bring the right players in to get the mix even better this season and build a team to take the league by storm.”