Patriot League's most decorated: Joe Greenspan went pro after standout Navy career
Greenspan has begun his professional career in Major League Soccer with the Colorado Rapids after the Navy allowed him to station in the area for an opportunity to pursue a dream.
“Obviously the Navy was kind enough to have me stationed here and serve and play when I was available,” Greenspan said. “The Naval Academy keeps you busy and with a packed schedule for a reason. I’m stationed at the recruiting office out here and am playing professionally, and I was trained well by the Navy to handle it. I’m mostly working in a public relations standpoint and giving talks to people to use my platform as professional athlete and Naval officer to maybe inspire some people in my story and what I’ve gone through.”
It is quite a story, and you never would have guessed Greenspan would add his list to the handful of Patriot League alumni playing professionally at the highest level in the United States. He played a lot of sports growing up in Westfield, New Jersey, but was drawn to soccer because of the fluidity of the game and the control he had. When he was looking to pursue the sport he loved in college, having success at Navy was hardly a guarantee as the school had won just five Patriot League games over the past five years. But Greenspan saw something in both the program and the school that made the journey south to Annapolis appealing.
“I didn’t really start talking with Coach (Dave) Brandt and thinking about it until after junior year of high school. I was really looking at college to set me up for the future, not only for soccer but overall. I looked at a few schools as well as other Patriot League schools, but when it came down to it the Naval Academy had the most to offer with the academics and athletics and opportunities that it would set me up five and 10 years down the road. With soccer it was an unbelievable environment and it really felt like a family and you could see how tight the group was. All aspects clicked and it was the right place.”
Everything did start to click in Greenspan’s tenure at Navy, though not immediately. After the Mids made the Patriot League Tournament for the first time in a decade when he was a freshman in 2011, the squad finished in last place in League action the following year with a 1-4-2 record, despite going 7-7-3 overall. Even after the tough season, Greenspan felt good about his team going into the 2013 campaign.
“It was instilled in us to believe in ourselves and what we were doing. Freshman year we proved to ourselves we could compete in the conference and sophomore year was a tough one. Junior year we kind of said we were not going to take no for an answer.”
And they didn’t, to the tune of one of the best seasons for any team in the history of Patriot League men’s soccer. Navy became just the second team to finish with a perfect record in Patriot League contests, and the Mids posted an outstanding season overall with a 16-4-2 mark. Navy won the League Tournament at home with a pair of shutout victories, and Greenspan’s defense did it again in the NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 win at VCU before bowing out 2-1 at No. 14 Wake Forest in the next round. Greenspan was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team and received national acclaim as a third-team All-American from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).
“Winning the Patriot League Tournament was fantastic. To win the first championship in school history was something special and we just took it to VCU when we went to Richmond the NCAA game. We kind of didn’t get off to the best start, we were 1-3-2 overall and I met with the coaching staff along with a few of the seniors and talked about it not being acceptable and we would not go out like this. We went on a big run from there and won 15 consecutive games and that kind of goes to the determination that we had.”
Navy had plenty of highlights in Greenspan’s senior season as well, though the storybook finish did not materialize as the Mids went 11-4-5 overall and 6-1-2 in the Patriot League and fell in a shootout in the semifinals of the League Tournament. Greenspan racked up individual awards in his final year, claiming his second straight Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year honor and a first-team NSCAA All-America nod while also finishing as a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy as the top player in the nation.
Greenspan finished his career as Navy's all-time leader in career games played with 78, finishing his four-year career at Navy with 78 games played, 75 games started, 42 points, 18 goals, six assists and 6,627 minutes played. He played over 1,900 minute in each of his last two seasons.
“The awards were fantastic, but we had so many guys that played a role and individuals have to come together. Maybe I was a great defender but we had a great back four and I just played my role.”
Greenspan graduated from Navy in May and was awarded the NAAA Sword for Men, which is presented to the man of the graduating class who is considered by the Association's Athletic Council to have personally excelled in men's athletics during his years of varsity competition. Even though he had been selected by the Rapids in the second round of the MLS Superdraft in January the future was uncertain. However, the Rapids and Navy soon came to an agreement to allow Greenspan to begin his professional career while also starting his service commitment.
Greenspan has played in a couple of games in his first season with the club as he transitions to the professional level. He had previously already trained with the team in two spells, and featured in preseason friendlies against UNLV and San Jose in Las Vegas, prior to officially joining the club.
“It’s tough going from the college game to the professional game. Every day presents a new challenge and I am working as hard as I can to do my best and want to do whatever I can on the field and support the guys when I’m not.”
For a while, Greenspan had the unique experience of playing alongside another Patriot League alum at the professional level. Boston University’s Dominique Badji, who was named the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 while Greenspan won the Defensive Player of the Year award, scored a goal while playing nine games for the Rapids before being transferred to the Charlotte Independence of the United Soccer League (USL) later in July.
“It was awesome. Dom’s a great player, he was one of the best players I played against in college. It was awesome to be out there with a guy that we played against. We have guys from big schools and for the two of us to represent the Patriot League we enjoy it and take a lot of pride in it.”
Greenspan has the Navy to thank for his opportunity, though his time at the Academy was thanks enough for his wonderful experience.
“It’s such a special place just because of the people you were surrounded by. The roommates who I lived with are some of my best friends and we will always be close. Everyone is going through the same stuff in terms of schoolwork and living with friends and getting through things together allows you to make memories.”
Above and middle: Joe Greenspan finished his career as Navy's all-time leader in career games played with 78 before moving on to the Colorado Rapids of MLS. (Photos courtesy of Patriot League Communications)