Bell signed with Viking FK in January, on the heels of a sensational campaign where he earned TopDrawerSoccer Player of the Year honors, leading the Cavaliers to a national runner-up finish in the NCAA tournament.
Now, a new journey begins in a small town called Stavanger on the coast of Norway.
“As I begin to learn more about the club and get to know the guys better, I can’t have been more happy with the decision I made,” Bell recently told topdrawersoccer.com. “I think I am very fortunate to have this opportunity in front of me.”
The longtime New Zealand youth international – Bell’s played at three youth World Cups for the Kiwis – first popped up on Viking’s radar last summer. A standout shift against Norway at least year’s Under-20 World Cup triggered interest from the club. After considering a pair of offers, Bell eventually opted to return to Virginia for his third year.
Velkommen, Joe! pic.twitter.com/CTCfz3slhx— Viking Fotball (@vikingfotball) January 10, 2020
He considered several factors as he mulled over Viking’s offer last summer.
“I believe timing is incredibly important for young players moving into the pro leagues,” he said. “For me I felt the following six months would prove to be important in my development as a player, plus as co-captain of the team it would have been slightly bitter to leave the team one month out of the season. I had confidence in both, the team and my own ability that in six months’ time the same, if not more offers would be available, and looking back on it now, I would not change a thing.”
That decision hugely benefited Bell and the UVA men’s soccer team. The experienced youth international made 22 appearances, scoring seven goals and adding four assists during the 2019 campaign. Along with the coaching staff, an experienced group and buy-in from a team that was hunger to live up to the program’s past accomplishments.
“None of us on the team had won a single trophy prior to 2019, yet we played on one of the most historic teams in the country,” Bell said. “That was something that drove us all year.”
But academics were clearly a factor in Bell’s decision-making as well. The more he learned about college soccer in the United States as he was a rising prospect in New Zealand, the more it seemed like the ideal fit for him. And Bell demonstrated just how important they are, earning ACC Academic Team honors in his three seasons with the Cavaliers, along with the ACC Scholar Athlete of the Year at the end of January.
Of course, he remains an outstanding soccer player as well, considering the international experience he picked up while at Virginia. Along with competing at both the 2019 and 2017 Under-20 World Cups, Bell was called up to the full New Zealand national team last November, earning a pair of caps while Virginia won the ACC tournament in his absence.
CONGRATS 👏 | Joe Bell, Callum McCowatt and Elijah Just are all set to make their All Whites debuts against the Republic of Ireland— New Zealand Football (@NZ_Football) November 14, 2019
Well done lads, such a special moment!#IRLNZL #AllWhites #NovemberTour pic.twitter.com/4eQMsT7MLn
While those stints obviously influenced his game, it also eventually put him in the shop window for European clubs.
“Any international experience is beneficial to a young player,” Bell said. “I was lucky to be involved in three world cups prior to finishing my time in college, and I think these experiences helped mold me into the player I am now. Not only does it give you a chance to gauge the level you are at with other internationals your age, but it also gives you insight into the speed of the game in those environments. Bringing that intensity back into training and games proved to be a big help.”
With a successful college career now in the rearview mirror, Bell is in the middle of preseason, preparing to begin his first season as a professional. Viking begins the 2020 Eliteserien season (Norwegian first division) on April 4, Bell is hoping to be prepped and ready to go when he is called upon.
“I am only focused now on the preseason and making sure every day I am 100 percent doing my best to develop myself so when the time comes for the season I am ready to play any role in the team that is required,” he said.