Navy reservist Joe Greenspan’s all-American childhood included playing hockey in the driveway with his three siblings and swimming during the humid summers of New Jersey. But it was soccer, with its fast pace and uninterrupted action, that he relished – from preschool to the majors.
“The more I played soccer, the more I fell in love with the game,” said Greenspan, a current public affairs officer in San Diego and former USL Championship soccer player.
Both of Greenspan’s grandfathers served in the military, while a great uncle graduated from West Point. So a career in public service made sense. But for Greenspan, so did soccer.
Navy soccer player an academy man
Greenspan struggled with injuries in high school, including a broken foot and torn ACL. He figured they would keep him off the radar of major recruiting lists and certainly off the roster of any professional team.
Then the Naval Academy came calling.
“I was looking to get the best education while playing soccer in college,” he said. “When you look at the person you can become at the Naval Academy, it really was a no-brainer.”
Greenspan played varsity soccer for the Midshipmen, graduating in 2015. He knew he wanted to try for a career in professional athletics and the Navy at the same time, despite the improbability.
“My brothers and sister had to give up a lot for me to be able to do my thing, and my parents spent a lot of time on soccer travel,” the 29-year-old said. “So if I had the opportunity to play at a high level while making them proud through the military, I wanted to do that. Luckily the Navy said I could do both.”
Greenspan kicked off his Navy career in May 2015 as a Surface Warfare Officer, eventually serving aboard the USS Sampson. Just one month later, the soccer defender was the 26th overall selection by the Colorado Rapids in the 2015 Major League Soccer Superdraft. He served a year of active duty before switching to the reserves so he could fully pursue soccer.
“It was definitely a bit of culture shock, being on a ship for seven months with no soccer,” Greenspan said. “Then, in the [Navy] Reserve, I had a smile on my face, because this organization, government and country made it to where I could fulfill my dream and play pro sports, too.”
Greenspan was traded to MLS expansion club Minnesota United after the 2016 season. From there, he went to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, playing his best soccer. He earned a spot on the 2019 USL Championship All-League 1st Team and was the 2019 USL Championship Defender of the Year. Greenspan finished out his career for the San Diego Loyal, where soccer star Landon Donavan called him “the best defender in the league.”
Unfortunately, injuries felled him once more. Greenspan tore his hip flexor twice and suffered multiple concussions, leading him to exit professional soccer in 2020. He plans to coach his future children, like his father did for him, and he still watches his friends play in adult leagues in San Diego.
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“I have to resist the urge to play myself,” he laughed.
In addition to serving in Public Affairs, Greenspan currently works for a digital performance marketing agency. It’s a totally different experience waking up and not physically hurting, he said.
So much of Greenspan’s success, he believes, can be traced back to the Navy.
“I really put myself into playing soccer and my job as a naval officer while doing them well, when they’re both very demanding,” he said. “For both soccer and the military, you understand you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.
“Sometimes, things being unconventional end up working out quite well.”