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HAMMOCK: World Cup sans Wolff

The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team's arrival in South Africa for the upcoming World Cup has the players eager, busy and nervous about the sport's ultimate stage.

They enter with high expectations and great pressure, something Parkview grad Josh Wolff understands very well. He was right in the middle of the hype as a member of the previous two U.S. World Cup teams.

"Once you get to the event itself, it takes on a life of its own with the attention and the pressure," said the 33-year-old Wolff, currently a forward for Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards. "But once the game gets going, your natural instincts take over. ... We've got some good guys on the team. It's a big year for Landon (Donovan), a big year for (Clint) Dempsey. Obviously (goalkeeper) Timmy (Howard) is going to have to be big for us.

"There is a lot of opportunity there for us this year. It's definitely the best draw we've ever had."

Wolff uses "we" and "us" to describe the U.S. side, much like any patriotic American would. But his references also are more personal since he knows many of the players, including several guys he shared the field with in various areas of the world for more than a decade.

That transformation from U.S. veteran forward to avid supporter who will watch this year on TV gives him a unique perspective on the event.

"It's certainly different not being there with them," Wolff said. "I'm now a very interested spectator. It will be good to sit around and watch those guys."

Wolff was one of them for years. His national team career included a starting role with the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, followed by trips to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. His highlight came in the 2002 World Cup second round when he started and assisted the first U.S. goal in a huge win over Mexico.

He had a feeling the 2006 World Cup would be his last given his age, but his solid play upon returning to MLS (after two years with Germany's 1860 Munich) gave a glimmer of hope about rejoining the national team. His 11 goals in 2009 ranked 10th-best in MLS, though it wasn't enough for a recall to the U.S. team.

"It's part of the gig," Wolff said. "You're not going to be at the top level, the national team level, for all your life. I rely on my speed and quickness and there are always younger, quicker guys coming up. It's a different era, a different time and different coaches. We have a very good draw and with that comes more expectations. It will be fun to watch this one from afar."

Though he's no longer a national team player, Wolff is far from done in soccer. Still a capable goal scorer, he still has that speed and quickness that has led to 74 goals and 39 assists in his long MLS career, which began in 1998 when he set the league's rookie scoring mark.

He still feels physically strong, having avoided injury pitfalls that slowed his progress earlier in his career. It's a year to year decision on how long to keep playing, but he expects at least a few more seasons in MLS.

His wife Angela is expecting the couple's fourth child, a girl, in September. She will join sons Tyler (7), Owen (5) and Gavin (21 months) in an expanding household that keeps Wolff plenty busy outside of soccer.

Even when he's done with his pro career, Wolff sees soccer in his future. And not just with his children, though Tyler and Owen have already begun playing.

"Soccer's given me so much, and including my family, given us so much," he said. "I look forward to staying involved with soccer in some capacity. I don't know where or how, but I'll be excited about it when the time comes. I don't want to put too much emphasis on that now because it can be a distraction while you're still playing."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.