When Shannon Cole signed with FC Arizona in November, it was a move that turned a lot of heads. Cole, a player with massive international credentials, was headed to Arizona’s only NPSL team in one of the biggest signings of the NPSL offseason.
Cole’s distinguished soccer career has taken him all over the world, from England, Israel, and New Zealand to Australia and the United States. He’s played for the Australian national team and starred in both the A-League and the AFC Champions League.
Cole is a player that worked his way up through the ranks, spending time with smaller clubs like APIA Leichhardt, Dulwich Hill, and Rockdale City Suns before heading to the U.S. to play soccer at Schoolcraft College. He went on to play for Parramatta Eagles in 2005, joining New Zealand side Waitakere United a year later. He also spent time with Doncaster Rovers and Maccabi Netanya before making his big break into the Australian top flight.
His ascent began with Sydney Olympic and continued with Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, and Sydney United. In all, Cole spent over ten years at the game’s highest levels.
Simply put, Cole has had some incredible performances as a world-class player.
“I have been very fortunate to live some extraordinary football experiences,” Cole commented. “In 2010 I was part of a brilliant Sydney FC team. We won the league in dramatic fashion on the last day of the season at home in front of 40,000 fans against the club’s biggest rivals Melbourne Victory. Weeks later we beat them on penalties in the championship game. To do that with my hometown club, a club that I had supported from the stands was literally a dream come true. I was involved in the national team that year also. While my involvement was limited to a handful of camps and just one appearance, representing my country is a memory I will keep close to my heart forever.”
Playing for the national team was a special time in Cole’s career, but the pinnacle at the club has to be his time with the Western Sydney Wanderers.
“In 2012, I joined Western Sydney Wanderers as a foundation player,” Cole continued. “This lost me a lot of fans who’d followed me at Sydney FC but playing for another massive club in my home city was something I never thought possible. We won 13 games in a row on a run that saw us win the league. In 2014 came my biggest achievement in football without a shadow of a doubt. With WSW, we won the Asian Champions League, an achievement almost everyone thought was impossible. We are the only Australian side to win the tournament. Playing against the richest clubs in Asia in front of insanely volatile crowds of 60,000 or 70,000 people. I remember looking my teammates in the eye on the pitch and smiling because we knew that those are the moments we all worked for since we were kids.”
Winning the AFC Champions League was immensely special for his team, but he was also honored as an All-Star for his stellar individual play in the competition. This is a special honor reserved for the very best.
Former teammate and current Sydney FC manager Steve Corica gave Cole rave reviews.
“Shannon was a likeable person and a good, direct, skilful footballer, who liked to get forward from the back. He scored a couple of good free kicks for us and scored goals at crucial times, as well as being a competent defender. I wish him well on his new career.”
Fans all over the world have been impressed by the quality of play available in the A-League, but Cole was able to experience that quality firsthand.
“I would say the A-League would compete with most leagues in Europe outside of the obvious big leagues,” Cole added. “I enjoyed playing some big clubs including EPL clubs in preseason games. They were definitely better than us. But a combination of friends and colleagues who have played in the EPL, La Liga, and the Bundesliga. The A-League, in most of their opinions, ranks respectively in the next tier down from the bigger leagues.”
Playing at such a high level has Cole prepared for whatever FC Arizona and the NPSL has to offer.
“I expect the league and the Founders Cup to provide more of what I’ve seen so far,” Cole said/ “A lot of players and coaches hungry to prove they have what it takes to compete at a higher level. My expectation is that players should respond positively to this kind of environment and competition and push themselves to reach a higher level of performance.”
Cole, who was highly coveted due to his enormous experience, chose FC Arizona for a number of reasons.
“I had the right conversation at the right time,” Cole said. “In my mid-thirties now, I’m at a stage where I’m enjoying my time playing while busily preparing for the future. This was a different opportunity than I had come across. To play in a team with aspirations of growing into something bigger. The announcement of FC Arizona’s involvement in the Founders Cup drew me to the club.”
FC Arizona owner Scott Taylor is excited to see what Cole can do on the pitch.
“Shannon played in the A-League for nine years,” Taylor said. “Having a guy like that on the field us this season is going to be very exciting for our fans.”
Cole is also excited about the opportunity to grow the game in Arizona.
“There are soccer fields everywhere. Every road, every corner has a field with goals. So the potential for the game is here. It’s a challenge for those at my club and others to capture the hearts and imaginations of the young players that fill those fields every week.”
The Sydney, Australia native joins a talented supporting cast that includes Irving Garcia, Tyler Feeley, Josh Doughty, Omar Nuno, and Russ Klabough.
The experience of a player like Cole is invaluable, especially in the locker room. Cole is eager to get started.
“As I mentioned, this is a very different experience to the last decade of my footballing experience,” Cole said. “Now, I know what it takes to win trophies. The professionalism required on and off the pitch for a football team to function. The best teams don’t talk about being the best teams, they just take action, day in and day out they prepare better than everyone else. That’s who I’ve always been, which is why I found myself at clubs that matched that attitude. My experiences with WSW helped me understand the importance of a club’s culture and how embracing the community that they represent is crucial for their success. If you look at the NPSL clubs with the biggest followings, the culture of the club and of the team matches that of the community they represent. I’ve played under one of the best tacticians in Asia for eight years, and as a result have a very sound and ever-growing grasp of the constant evolution of football tactics and the importance of organization and discipline on the field. Already I’ve enjoyed many tactical conversations with the FC Arizona coaches and offered ideas and advice to younger players who are willing to listen and learn.”
There is a lot to learn from a player like Shannon Cole, a player that has literally seen it all.
He is joining a league that has seen its share of stars over the years, including Adriano, Chris Wondolowski, Julio Cesar “Rambo” De Leon, Tim Parker, Keaton Parks, Patrick Mullins, Kofi Opare, and Sachem Wilson to name a few.
Shannon Cole’s experience, leadership, and skill proves that he is ready to lead a new generation of stars in a new era of FC Arizona and the NPSL. It’s an exciting time and this player and club will be cheered on from Arizona to Australia, building new fans and new supporters along the way.
Photo Credit: WSW/Steve Christo, Sydney FC