Despite all of his achievements on both the international and club level, Georgios Samaras isn’t looking to live off of his past successes. Rather, the Greek star is looking to play his part in something totally new while reacquainting himself to the game after some time away.
When the NASL season kicks off on Saturday, Samaras will take the field as one of the league’s biggest stars. In signing with expansion side Rayo OKC in early March, the former Celtic and Manchester City forward gave the new project instant star power and a goalscorer that many expects to be among the most lethal in the league.
For Samaras, Saturday’s return to the field will represent much more than just a debut. Rather, it represents a return to something he loves and a chance to create something new in a thriving new soccer community.
The past year has been a frustrating one for the 31-year-old forward. Injuries kept Samaras sidelined from May until the first two weeks of September, as the forward opted to terminate his contract with English club West Brom to properly heal himself in his own way. Training stints with D.C. United and the New York Cosmos followed, as Samaras looked to once again work his body into soccer shape. Once fit, a deal with Rayo OKC came together, matching expansion club and experienced striker with what looks like an ideal fit.
After missing the preseason due to visa issues, Samaras says he expects to be 90 minutes fit within the next few weeks.
“When I spoke with the coach, Alen (Marcina), he won me,” Samaras said. “The things he said to me and the things he believes in and the trust for me with myself and my talent, it convinced me to be a part of his team. Everyone knows its a new franchise here in OKC, and I believe that we’re going to have a bright future, all of us, the team and the community.
“The most important thing for me is enjoying soccer again,” Samaras added. “I missed it a lot these months, and it’s something that I love a lot. I love to go back on the field and kick the ball again and be happy and help my team to be competitive. I don’t see myself with numbers with how many goals I’m going to score or how many assists I’m going to give. I just want to enjoy football again because I really miss it and help my team to be competitive. We have a very good team and I believe in our team. It’s no numbers or expectations, it’s just to enjoy and help the team.”
Throughout his career, Samaras has played big matches on some of the biggest stages. The forward has represented his country 81 times while while earning appearances in two World Cups. On the club level, Samaras won four Scottish League titles with Celtic while also representing Manchester City in the Premier League.
From afar, Samaras has watched American soccer grow, and the Greek star says that he expects the country to be competing with Europe in the next “four or five years”. Samaras sees the NASL as a major part of that growth, and the forward is proud to be just one part of an ever-growing soccer culture in both OKC and the U.S.
“I believe the quality is very high in the NASL, but people don’t recognize that,” Samaras said. “Everyone talks it about it being the second league of the United States and things like that, but people need to recognize that it’s a totally different league than MLS that also has high quality players and very good franchises around the country.
“I really believe in this league and how it has developed here in the last couple of years, so I’m very happy to do my best to help the league to grow up.”
Samaras is just one of five World Cup veterans on Rayo OKC’s inaugural roster ahead of the team’s first ever regular season game against FC Edmonton on Saturday. Heading into such a new experiences, Samaras admits his prior experience will be important.
Yet, Samaras isn’t content to sit back on what he has accomplished. Rather, he is looking to create new accomplishments while contributing to a brand new team with a very empty slate.
“What we did in the past, whether we played in World Cups or if we played in Europe or South America or MLS, that’s in the past,” Samaras said. “We need to focus on our present and how to make our team competitive, not only for the first game, but for the whole season.
“I really believe in our talent and our team. Hopefully, everything will go in the right way.”