0

Wolff's soccer success unmatched by another Georgian

United States' Josh Wolff (16) keeps control of the ball against Jamaica's Jermaine Taylor in the first half of their CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter final match in Foxboro, Mass., Saturday July 16, 2005.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

United States' Josh Wolff (16) keeps control of the ball against Jamaica's Jermaine Taylor in the first half of their CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter final match in Foxboro, Mass., Saturday July 16, 2005. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

It's no longer shocking for Georgia-born and bred soccer players to compete for the U.S. National Team, but it wasn't always that way.

When Josh Wolff dominated on the fields of Gwinnett County as a kid, the possibility of someone from this area playing international soccer seemed more than a longshot. Even as opportunities opened up with the U.S. Youth National Teams, the speedy forward from Parkview wasn't sure when his options for climbing the levels of soccer would end.

Yet over the years, Wolff just kept climbing.

He represented the U.S. in the 2000 Olympics in Australia and in two FIFA World Cups --2002 in Korea and Japan and 2006 in Germany. He played 14 seasons of Major League Soccer, along with another two seasons with 1860 Munich in Germany.

Those feats, as unexpected as they were, made Wolff the most accomplished Georgia soccer product ever.

"I had no idea how far soccer would take me, not in the least bit," said Wolff, who will be inducted into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame today at Coolray Field. "The opportunities and doors that opened along the way for me, the timing was right for a lot of those things. I remember playing on the youth national team and not knowing what soccer would be, if it would just be for college. But the next step kept opening up for me."

The longevity of his pro soccer career is as surprising to Wolff as anyone.

It got started when he left South Carolina after his junior season and signed a Nike Project 40 contract (now Generation Adidas) with the MLS. He led the U.S. Project 40 team in scoring with 12 goals in 1998, earning his way onto the Chicago Fire roster that same season. He had eight goals and three assists in 14 MLS appearances during the regular season, which was followed by Fire victories in the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup.

Wolff played with Chicago until 2003 and joined the Kansas City Wizards, who he played for until his two-year stint with 1860 Munich. He rejoined Kansas City in 2008 and finished his MLS career with D.C. United for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

He announced his retirement this past November, coinciding with the news that D.C. United hired him as a full-time assistant coach. It ended a long MLS career that saw him tally 80 goals and 49 assists in 267 regular-season games (210 starts).

"Last year I felt really solid, but I had a hiccup in training with a herniated disc in my back (that was later surgically repaired)," Wolff said. "For three or four weeks, I was not able to function. I couldn't sit up. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't play with my kids."

As for Wolff's career with the U.S. National Team, that ended back in 2008. He made 52 appearances with the full national team, highlighted by playing every minute of the Americans' six matches at the 2000 Olympics and reaching the World Cup twice.

He had considerable success again Mexico, scoring his first international goal vs. El Tri in 2000 and scoring the game-winner against the U.S. rival in a 2001 qualifying victory that sent the Americans to the World Cup. Then in 2002, he started and assisted the match's first goal as the U.S. beat the Mexicans to reach the quarterfinals. He was on the 2006 World Cup team as well, but appeared in just one match.

Wolff has spent the recent months shifting to his different role as a D.C. United coach. The job will allow him to keep his family --he and his wife Angela, a former Brookwood soccer player, have four children (sons Tyler, 10, Owen, 8 and Gavin, 4, and daughter Ella, 2) --in the same northern Virginia location after 15 years of regular travel.

"This side of it is even more challenging because there are so many facets to it," Wolff said of coaching. "I'm learning a bit more every day. ... This sport in our country is here to stay. There's more visibility. There's more money. They're more commitment. I'm excited to still be a part of it."

Soccer, it turns out, keeps opening doors for Wolff, who grew up in the shadows of Stone Mountain. His hectic schedule rarely permitted visits back to Georgia, so he is thrilled about this weekend's hall of fame trip. His former Parkview coach Karl Bostick, a Gwinnett Hall of Famer himself, will introduce him at the ceremony prior to tonight's Gwinnett Braves game.

"I'm excited, honored and humbled," Wolff said of his induction. "This is where it all started, Gwinnett County and Georgia. A lot of people, players and coaches from there helped me with my soccer career along the way. It's nice to be honored individually, but a lot of other factors go into it and a lot of people helped with that process."