Justin Moose grew up in the small town of Statesville, North Carolina. He comes from a strong family and his personality can be described as quiet and confident. For many who know him now, you might mistake him for ‘just a normal guy.’ But if you sit down with him and listen to his story, he is anything but normal.
Justin found himself mesmerized with the sport of soccer at a very young age. At 3 years old, he was kicking a soccer ball in the front yard with his older brother, and he can even remember the feeling of the ball connecting with his foot and how excited he was every time he would dribble or pass. With no background in soccer, his parents signed him up in the recreational program and the rest, as they say, is history.
By the age of 13 he was a standout, and would make the hour long drive to Charlotte, to play for Charlotte Soccer Club, which is now known as Charlotte Soccer Academy. Not long after joining the club, Justin was scouted and identified as one of the country’s top players and quickly was called into the U.S. U-14 National Team.
The talent, creativity, and flare that were a part of Justin’s game are things that are still spoken about in soccer circles throughout the country.
“I remember seeing a highlight tape of Justin as a youth player and I just couldn’t believe the things he was doing,” said Executive Director, Carson Porter, who previously was an assistant coach at Wake Forest during Justin’s playing years there. “His talent was at another level and the creativity and bravery that he had as a player was something that everyone was in awe of. To this day, when I tell people Justin Moose is a part of our coaching staff, the most common response is ‘What a player he was.’
A top-10 college recruit with his choice of any school in the country, Justin chose Wake Forest University, and graduated high school a semester early so he could spend the spring semester at Wake, getting a jump on his soccer and academics.
It didn’t take long for him to establish himself as one of the top players in the ACC, known as the best college soccer conference in the country. He was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 2001 and a 1st team All American as a junior. While at Wake, Justin was also establishing himself in the U.S. U-20 National Team during the build-up to the U-20 World Cup. In a strange sequence of events, the U20 World Cup, which was scheduled to be played in United Arab Emirates, was delayed because of 9/11 and Justin, who had already taken a semester off from Wake Forest to be with the U.S. team, would be forced to take an additional semester off if he wanted to be considered for the World Cup. He decided to stay at Wake to aggressively pursue his college degree, something important to him and his family. He would graduate a semester early and pursue his professional soccer career.
Justin was selected in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft with the 7th pick overall by D.C. United. After two seasons, and signing an extension for a 3rd, Justin would be forced to have a hernia surgery that would ultimately end his time with United. Upon recovery, Justin signed a contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the USL. Vancouver would be a place that he quickly fell in love with, and where he would stay for 3 successful seasons that included scoring the game-winner in the USL Championship Final, and marrying his wife, Natalia.
“We love Vancouver and had such great times there. We went back this summer to visit friends. It is just one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”
Similar to D.C. United, Justin’s contract came to an end in Vancouver. A coaching change and front office budget challenges meant that Justin needed to find a new team. The nomadic lifestyle of a professional soccer player forced another move.
“Looking back, being a successful pro has so much to do with opportunity," Justin said when asked about the challenges of being a professional. "You need a coach and an organization who believe in you, and you need time to show what you can do and how you can influence a team. In some ways, I’m not sure if I ever had this. I had coaches that believed in me but there are so many circumstances and moving parts that go into a professional club. I had injuries, a coach would get fired, an organization would be financially unstable. So many things that you maybe don’t think about or read about that can influence a player's career.”
Justin, a creative and open minded man who is always willing to take a chance and do things differently, signed with F.C. Sriracha a top professional club in Thailand. Not only did he have a great career playing soccer there, Justin and his wife found themselves completely immersed in the local culture.
“The level was good, and I was average height.” Justin who is 5’6" and was often the shortest player on the field, explains with a laugh. “There were crowds of 25,000 at some of the games. The whole country was immersed in the league and followed it closely.
The only American in the league, he would often follow his teammates into the local monastery where they would go for a peaceful moment before the game.
“It was just very, very different, everything about it. And I decided from day one that I would do everything I could to learn and be a part of the experience.
“I learned to speak Thai and I was very influenced by the Buddhist culture, they have a very different approach towards life compared to what we are used to back in the states. It brought me to a place of peace and tranquility that I have never felt before,” Justin commented with seriousness and care in his voice, before moving on to some lighter parts of living in a completely different culture.
“Our club was sponsored by a scooter company so I got a scooter to get around town on. So here I am, the only American in the Thailand professional league zipping around in my scooter. I loved it.”
From Thailand, Justin was approached by a team in Finland called SJK (Seinajoen Jalkapallokerho). Justin’s wife was pregnant with their son August which made the move a challenge, but the new climate might have been the biggest change.
“In Thailand it was 90 degrees and sunny every day. We got to Finland and it was -3 degrees and I couldn’t feel my nose. The sun was only out for 4 hours a day,” Justin recalled with a smile.
Justin and his team qualified for the UEFA Championship before it was time to start thinking about coming home to the U.S.
10 years as a professional gave Justin a lot of experiences, but his playing career could be easily defined as “different”. When other players were grinding it out in the MLS, Moose was in Finland and in Thailand.
“I felt like I was a little bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when I started thinking about coming back to the U.S. I wanted to keep playing but I knew that it would be a challenge to link on to a club back home.”
That’s when he re-connected with old friend, coach, and current Executive Director, Carson Porter. Porter was an Assistant Coach at Wake Forest while Justin was a player. They stayed in touch via email and when Justin began researching a move home he found his friend in a position where he might be able to help. Porter was serving as the head coach of the USL Wilmington Hammerheads was more than happy to sign the player that he always admired.
“I was always tracking him because he was a friend. I would read obscure articles that report on American soccer players abroad, and occasionally see a mutual friend that had been in contact with Justin. I admired his playing career and the path that he chose to take, and when he expressed interest in Wilmington, we worked together to get it done,” said Porter.
After two years of playing for the Hammerheads the voices in his head starting to talk to him about retirement, the bigger picture, and what comes next. Justin, who was offered a full-time position with the youth club, and his wife both had secure jobs, therefore he decided it was time to settle down here in Wilmington and raise his family. Since that decision back in 2015 Justin has gone from the ’05 and ’06 youth coach to the youth director. Now that his son is in the Wilmington Hammerheads Youth Football Club, he has even more of a reason to stay involved here.
“My wife loves her job at nCino, I feel at home with the Hammerheads, and my son loves being in the program, getting to play several times a week. I have no intention of leaving Wilmington anytime soon” Said Justin Moose.
“I always tell people how lucky we are to have Justin working with our players,” said Carson Porter. “We are literally talking about one of the most technical and creative players this country has ever produced, with playing experiences all over the world, working, teaching and influencing our youngest players. He is a great man with a great family, and we just feel really lucky to have him.”