Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge/Burlingame Dragons FC
Burlingame Dragons FC forward Jamael Cox is having a breakout season in the PDL, and some of his success can be attributed to an intriguing source: indoor soccer.
Cox's 2016 campaign for Burlingame could not have started much better. The 24-year-old has scored three goals in three games, including one in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He has combined well with teammates and is spurring Dragons FC's attack.
“Jamael is playing some of the best soccer of his career,” Dragons FC Head Coach Eric Bucchere told USLPDL.com. “He’s playing at a next-level speed right now, and his vision for the game is first class. He’s really expanding his game to new levels, and it’s paid off for him.”
Cox, who grew up in the Seattle-Tacoma area, has been playing indoor soccer for a number of years with the Tacoma Stars. The Stars have recently started competing in the Major Arena Soccer League, and Cox scored eight goals en route to helping his side reach the playoffs this past winter.
While soccer is still in the name, the indoor game is not the same.
"It's kind of like hockey with a soccer ball, very fast-paced," Cox told USLPDL.com. "It's a totally different game, a different mindset."
Teams of six, including a goalkeeper, compete in a fast-paced setting with four periods of play.
"Tight spaces is all pretty much [what] indoor is," Cox said. "It's all about the first touch, and being quick with the ball – dribbling and movement off the ball is very important. So it helps me out moving to a bigger field."
"Two parts of his game that I’ve noticed he’s really improved on are: he’s always had that special next-level pace to get by guys, but now he’s added his first touch and improved his technical abilities to get out of tight spaces as well," Bucchere echoed.
"The other side of it, this season so far, he’s really embraced the work defensively on the other other side of the ball and has become a leader defensively for us. It just puts him in great spots when we win it, so that we can attack again."
Cox was a member of Burlingame's first season in the PDL in 2015, scoring one goal and providing one assist to help the Dragons win the Southwest Division title. He decided to come back this year because he sees the PDL as a platform for development and Burlingame as a team he thinks can help him earn another professional contract.
Before signing his first pro deal with the Rowdies, the Burlingame forward trialed with clubs abroad, including German club FC Nurnberg and Scottish side Rangers FC. The prospect of playing abroad is one that fascinates Cox, but he would also love to play close to home if the opportunity arose. He started his PDL career with Sounders FC U-23, and has stayed in contact with the coach, Darren Sawatzky, who also serves as the coach for the Stars.
"Staying close to home in the United States would be nice," Cox said.
The motivating factor behind Cox's desire to go pro and be successful is his brother, Raphael Cox, who also played in the PDL before winning an MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake in 2009, clinching an NASL title with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2012 and reaching the USL final with the Harrisburg City Islanders in 2014.
"I'm hoping to win a championship this summer [with Burlingame]," Cox said.
"Expectations are pretty high here. I'm hoping that we can make a run and get further than than what we did, which was the Western Conference playoffs. I feel like we have the potential to get there."