Major League Soccer

Navy's Joseph Greenspan: A Compelling MLS Prospect

A six-foot-six central defender who led Navy to its best season since the mid-1960s, Greenspan would likely be a top 10 pick if not for his Naval commitment. Regardless, he's still a compelling prospect.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
January 06, 2015
4:12 PM
A LITTLE PATIENCE and willingness to work with a whole lot of red tape might net a Major League Soccer team a potential diamond in the rough in next week’s SuperDraft, as an intriguing prospect once thought to be off-limits for the 2015 season now appears to be available.

Joseph Greenspan, a towering center back from Navy and a two-time All-American whose pending military obligation had MLS teams thinking he’d be unavailable to them for several years, is optimistic he’ll be able to postpone beginning his Naval service enough to be available to an MLS team later this season. He is hoping to be selected in next week’s draft.

Like all service academy graduates, Greenspan is facing a five-year commitment on active duty. But he’s hoping that he could either have a temporary duty in a recruiting capacity this summer or postpone his training as a surface warfare officer until late fall.

“We’re working with the Navy and as it stands right now it looks like he’s going to be able to play after graduation for the balance of the 2015 calendar year,” said Remy Cherin, Greenspan’s agent. “He should be free after graduating (in early June). After the season we’re hearing he’ll have to do his service, but we don’t know how long or where. The best-case scenario is he’d do two years of active duty then resume his (soccer) career.”

At six-foot-six, if Greenspan plays in MLS he would be the tallest field player in league history. But it’s not just his height that makes him an intriguing prospect. He began his career as a forward, scoring 10 goals his first two seasons. He brings good feet and mobility, particularly for his size, to the position. He reads the game well and, not surprisingly, his fitness and leadership skills are considered strengths.

He switched to center back before his junior season and emerged as one of the top defenders in college soccer, helping Navy to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, its best season since the 1960s. He was a third-team All-American as a junior and a first-team as a senior.

“If he didn’t have the military commitment, he’d be a first round pick for sure, maybe even top 10,” said an MLS player evaluator who requested anonymity. “But with the commitment, it’s hard to say where he goes now. The fact that he might be able to play this year will help but there’s still a lot of the season he’ll miss.

"But if you’re a team that’s looking at losing players for the national team this summer having a guy like that come in after he graduates might be a nice addition at the right time. And then in a couple of years you might have a really good player… Or he may never be able to play for you. It’s a really weird situation but some team will take a chance.”

Greenspan is not attending the MLS-run combine in Florida that begins Friday.

“I didn’t want to take a spot from someone knowing my situation is kind of up in the air,” he said. However, last week he attended a combine in Las Vegas run by Toronto and Seattle, and this week he’s attending one run by New York City FC.

Last summer he played for D.C. United’s U-23 side in the amateur National Premier Soccer League and showed well enough to be asked to train with the first team. Multiple league sources say United is intrigued that Greenspan might be available this season and the club’s proximity to Annapolis would certainly make it easier to train with the club while he finishes school this semester. (He’s taking 17 credits this semester to complete a degree in economics.)

“Once I’m drafted we’ll see what team takes me and then we’ll go from there—and the Navy will figure out what I can and can’t do,” said Greenspan.

Greenspan will actually have a bit of say in where he’s assigned and that could be influenced by what MLS team drafts him.

“Ship selection is a week or two after draft,” Greenspan explained. “The way it works is you get to go in order of your class rank for all the midshipmen who are going into the part of the Navy you’re doing. So for me, doing surface warfare, I’m right in the middle of the class rank. Then all the ships you know what base their assigned to and they all have a certain number of billets and you go in order of your rank and you can pick whatever ship you want if they have a billet available. So if, say, San Diego is available when it’s my turn, I could pick that.”

There are many examples in American sports of teams that took fliers on academy athletes and had them pay off after waiting out their service commitments. Hall of famers Roger Staubach and David Robinson are the two most famous service academy graduates who went on to careers in pro sports.

Others who have done so include:

  • Navy running back Napoleon McCallum, who famously played for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1986 while simultaneously serving as a supply officer on a ship in Long Beach, Calif. (He had to abandon his NFL career when he was reassigned to a different ship.)

  • Phil McConkey, who flew helicopters after graduating from Annapolis was a role player on the New York Giants' 1986 Super Bowl championship team.

  • Former Air Force All-American defensive lineman Chad Hennings spent four years on active duty as a fighter pilot before switching to the reserves, which enabled him to sign with the Dallas Cowboys, with which he won three Super Bowl rings in the early 1990s as a part-time starter.

  • More recently, former Navy pitcher Mitch Harris spent five seasons on active duty before beginning a minor league career in the St. Louis Cardinals system in 2013. He reached AAA last summer and is expected to compete for a roster spot in spring training this year.

  • In soccer, two years ago the Seattle Sounders selected Kevin Durr out of Air Force in the supplemental draft and after spending part of the 2013 preseason with the Sounders, he returned to school and is now finishing his military obligation at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

  • Like Robinson, former Army linebacker Caleb Campbell spent two years on active duty before transitioning to the reserves. In 2010, he debuted for the Detroit Lions.

    Greenspan is hopeful the can follow a path similar to Robinson and Campbell and transition to the reserves after two years of active duty, something that would make him available to return to pro soccer in 2018. But, as Harris’ case shows, the Navy doesn’t always agree to those terms and he could be forced to fulfill all five years of his commitment on active duty.

    All of which underscores why he wants to try and get his foot in pro soccer this summer before being deployed. “If we could get him that one season this year under his belt, it would make returning to MLS in two years that much easier,” said Cherin.

    Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.
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