TAMPA — For Rowdies newly-acquired striker Carl Cort, the path from England to Tampa Bay traveled, curiously enough, through Guyana.
Cort, who in 2000 was one of the most sought-after young soccer prospects in the English Premier League, found himself without a club after being released from Brentford of England's League One in January 2011. The London native moved to the United States to train and earned a roster spot on the Guyana national team — Cort's mother is Guyanese.
He made his first international appearance Nov. 11, 2011, in a 2-1 victory over Trinidad and Tobago that advanced Guyana into the third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time in the country's history.
Also playing for Guyana was Tampa Bay defender J.P. Rodrigues, who told Rowdies coach Ricky Hill that Cort was looking for a club team. At the time, the Rowdies had no room on the roster, according to Hill, but the transfer of forward Tsuyoshi Yoshitake to Yokohama FC Hong Kong in early August created a vacancy.
"Yoshi's salary had been taken off of the books, so we had a little bit of money, not a great deal, to work with if someone had done well enough to try to bring them in and add to our squad for the remainder of the year," Hill said. "I remember Carl from when he was a young player at Wimbledon and the likes and he was always a threat as a striker, always a gifted striker, could score goals, make goals for other people."
In 1999, Cort was one of the most promising young players anywhere. The England Under-21s striker scored 15 goals in the Premier League for Wimbledon and was signed to a five-year contract with Newcastle for about $11.3 million.
"It was a massive achievement because, at that time, it was for a lot of money, and as a youngster, you're kind of going into a team with experienced players, world-class players," said Cort, who was 21 when he signed with Newcastle. "…There's a lot of pressure and the expectations of it, going from Wimbledon, it was a massive step up."
Cort, though, started just 22 games at Newcastle. Surgery on his hamstring cost him several months and recurring injuries to his hamstring and knee kept him on the bench.
In January 2004, Cort was shipped to Wolverhampton for about $3.2 million and had perhaps his best season as a professional, scoring 16 goals in 40 games in the second-tier English Championship in 2004-05. Injuries, again, derailed a promising start. In November 2006, Cort had knee cartilage surgery and was released after the season. Afterward, Cort struggled to regain his form through short, unremarkable stints at Leicester City, Norwich City, Brentford and Spain's Union Deportiva.
"I think people don't understand how bad (the injuries) were. They were pretty serious," he said. "Playing in the U.K., there's a lot more pressure, pressure to come back and perform and to perform well. And being out for such a long period of time … you have to build your confidence as well as get your fitness, and it's difficult."
In Tampa Bay, Cort, 34, hopes to leave an injury-riddled past behind and close his playing career on the same upward swing that had him rising through the English ranks as a teenager.
For inspiration, the 6-foot-4, 172-pound target forward can look to Rowdies defender Takuya Yamada, 38, and midfielder Stuart Campbell, 34, who have started every game and are two of the team's steadiest performers.
"I think coming here was perfect for me," Cort said. "I can get my head down, work hard and hopefully add something to the team."