Two years ago, an emotional John Wilson stood on the field at Blackbaud Stadium, looked around at the fans and his teammates, and announced his retirement from the game he loved since a kid.
USL Pro Division Final
USL Pro Division Final Who: Wilmington Hammerheads at Charleston Battery When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Where: Blackbaud Stadium Tickets: Call (843) 971-4625
He was going out on top.
The Charleston Battery veteran defender had just helped lead the soccer club to a 2-1 victory over Richmond in the USL Second Division championship match. It was Wilson’s second league title with the Battery and the club’s third championship trophy.
The former Clemson All-American wiped away a few tears and told reporters: “Yep, this is it for me. This is my last game. It’s the way any player would like to end their career.”
It was a storybook ending for Wilson, who had been with the club for seven seasons.
But over the winter, Wilson began to have second thoughts about his decision and eventually came out of retirement in 2011. He returned again this spring for his ninth season with the Battery at the age of 34.
“I thought it was over,” Wilson said. “I guess I had a little bit more left in the tank.”
Wilson, who is second in club history with 222 games, has proven to be ageless even into his mid-30s on the field. He has been a mainstay in the Battery’s lineup as they march toward their fourth league final appearance. The Battery will face Wilmington tonight at 7:30 in the USL Pro Division final at Blackbaud Stadium.
Only former keeper Dusty Hudock has played in more Battery games (281). But no player in the club’s history has played in more cup finals or league title games. This will be Wilson’s third league championship game.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the team has been successful when John has been in uniform,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He’s a consummate professional. He’s stays fit year round and he has a passion for the game.”
Wilson has been used at left back for most of the season. It’s a demanding position with plenty of running involved.
“He plays the game the same way he did when he first got here,” Anhaeuser said. “His work rate has dropped very little over the years, which is a testament to his fitness level.”
Despite being in his third league title game, Wilson said he’s as excited as he’s ever been about the opportunity to win another championship.
“A lot of guys play their whole career and never get a shot at a cup final,” Wilson said. “This could be my last shot at a cup, so I want to make the most of it.”
Will Wilson return for a 10th season? Even he doesn’t know.
“As long as I can play at a high level I’d like to continue to play,” Wilson said. “I’ll make a decision after the season is over.”
Cuevas, Patterson honored
Charleston Battery striker Jose Cuevas was named the USL Pro Division’s Rookie of the Year on Friday.
Cuevas had eight goals and five assists during the regular season.
Cuevas and midfielder Nicki Paterson were named to the USL Pro Division’s first team. Paterson led the team with 11 goals.