ST. PETERSBURG — By the time he was 32, Nicky Law already had built a full professional soccer career. He debuted in the English Premier League at age 18. Played in the Scottish Premier League. Logged more than 500 European matches. Scored more than 70 goals and assisted on more than 100 others.
Then, the midfielder decided to move to the United States and start over.
Law always had wanted to play soccer in the U.S. He wanted to coach once he retired, too. The opportunity he found with the USL Championship’s Indy Eleven before the 2021 season provided both. He left Exeter City and moved to Indianapolis.
“You’re kinda starting from nothing, really, once you get here,” Law said. “You kinda have to rebuild your life.”
In July, the Indy Eleven traded Law to the Rowdies in exchange for Juan Tejada. Tampa Bay said goodbye to a fan favorite but welcomed an experienced midfield piece. Law, now 34, provides a “reliable” presence on the ball, assistant coach Jon Stead said. He adds a “calming influence,” too, head coach Neill Collins said.
Law has appeared in five matches for Tampa Bay, starting two. In the twilight of his career, he continues to build on a new foundation that he hopes will lead to coaching opportunities afterward.
“We’ve still got a lot more to see from Nicky, and I think we know that as staff that there’s still a lot more to come from him,” Stead said. " I think we keep building him toward the last stage of the season when it really matters, and we get to those playoff moments.”
Law’s connections with the Rowdies’ staff always made Tampa Bay a logical destination. He was a lower-level Sheffield United “scholar” when Collins briefly joined on loan in 2005-06 and later crossed paths with Stead for the same club.
But Collins was hesitant to offer at first, so Law’s move from Europe started with Martin Rennie, Indy Eleven’s former coach who signed him before the 2021 season. They talked about an opportunity to help coach with local soccer academies and teams, allowing Law to gather experience while chipping away at coaching badges.
However, travel from England, where Law was in the middle of the season with Exeter City, to Indianapolis became complicated. He was uncertain about whether he could enter the U.S. because of COVID-19 restrictions. He tried rerouting from Poland, but that took nearly two weeks instead of the two days he anticipated.
Law knew he had to take everything in stride. When he played in Europe, he bounced from Sheffield United and Bradford City to Motherwell and Rangers — influenced by the spark his father, a former professional soccer player and coach, first ignited in him. He made his English Premier League debut in November 2006, entering for one minute at the end of a Sheffield United win. He made his first start two weeks later against Manchester United.
Experiences like that translated to the Rowdies’ locker room — where Law said he’s probably “the most experienced guy” — after the team acquired him.
“People don’t realize the level that he’s played at and the success that he’s had,” Rennie said. “He’s got to kinda start again and prove himself again now, which obviously he’s done that a little bit in Indy, but he now has to do it in another market in Tampa.”
Law said he was surprised by the trade. Indy Eleven didn’t necessarily want him to leave, but they gauged his interest when the Rowdies reached out ahead of a July 15 match against New York Red Bulls II.
Later that week, Law and his family traveled with the team to New York. His parents joined them from England. Law knew about the potential deal but couldn’t yet give away hints, except to his wife. They had to dodge questions from his parents about Indianapolis. His parents had planned a trip to the city in November.
Near the end of their stay, as the deal started to finalize, Law mentioned it to his parents. Yes, he’d be flying back to Indianapolis. But then he’d get on another plane to Tampa ahead of the Rowdies’ next game.
With likely just two or three years left in his playing career, Law said he felt the move gave him the best opportunity to compete for a title. The allure of coaching — the opportunities in the United States are greater in number than those in the U.K., he said — remained at the back of his mind, too.
“My coaching career, again, I’ll be starting from nothing,” Law said. “Just because I played a lot of games doesn’t mean I’m gonna be a good coach. So I want to try and learn as much as I can from all these great opportunities I’m getting out here (in the United States).”
vs. Las Vegas Lights FC, 7:30 Saturday
Al Lang Stadium