John Wilson, an accomplished cook, didn't have time to prepare his usual egg and cheese sandwich Wednesday morning. The 36-year-old Charleston Battery defender was in a rush to speak at the Daniel Island Rotary Club. He carried only coffee into his black Jeep Grand Cherokee, a beloved vehicle nicknamed "Betsy."
That's when it struck Wilson: He was on his way to talk about retiring from soccer. He remembered that Betsy was purchased way back in 2000, when Wilson played for the Major League Soccer champion Kansas City Wizards.
He glanced at the odometer: 200,000 miles-plus.
There were no second thoughts.
"This is the final, final time," said Wilson, a former Clemson player who has emerged from brief retirements twice. "My mom has always said that your body and God will let you know when it's time. This is it."
The Battery's final regular-season game of the season Friday night against the Harrisburg City Islanders at Blackbaud Stadium will be Wilson's last soccer appearance in Charleston, unless the Battery gets a playoff home game. Since 1999 he has played in 268 games for the Battery, second only to former goalkeeper and current assistant coach Dusty Hudock (281).
Wilson, single, plans to travel, "spread the message" of soccer joy to kids and explore sports nutrition business opportunities.
After yet another post-practice ice bath soothed his 5-9, 170-pound body, Wilson was content to reflect.
Clemson and titles
On soccer at Seneca High School: "High school soccer was just fun because it was playing with a bunch of guys I grew up with, which is something you don't see much now because everyone plays club soccer. It was also a pleasure having my parents at the games, because they didn't really have the time or finances to travel around to see me play."
On playing at Clemson: "I used to be a ballboy at Clemson games. I saw them win the 1987 national championship. San Diego State had Eric Wynalda and he was the best player on the field, but Clemson won. Then my senior year, we won the ACC championship. It was my childhood dream, playing at my dream school."
On playing for three Battery championship teams - 2003, 2010 and 2012 - despite two MLS breaks in his Charleston tenure: "The 2003 team was a stacked squad of veteran players. The 2010 team was good but maybe not as good as 2003. In 2012, we were decent but we just kind of fought hard. Those last two teams weren't the best in the league but the great thing about soccer in America is the playoffs."
On that MLS championship season with Kansas City: "I got to play for (head coach) Bob Gansler and he did one of the best things for me that was also one of the hardest things I ever went through: He released me. He said I was still a raw defender, which made me come back to Charleston and work on my game. It pushed me. It also made me finish my degree at Clemson."
'More like family'
On three years with DC United, 2005-2007: "Special. DC United was America's first soccer team. They were the first to have the true fans, the true environment and I was lucky enough to be a part of that."
On soccer popularity: "I played football in high school, too, and one of my football coaches asked why I also played 'that communist sport.' To watch soccer grow and break barriers of race and culture has been great."
On Battery fans: "I consider these fans to be more like family. I see people in the stands I grew up with, and they're in the stands with their kids, and those kids give me high-fives. I see fans in the grocery store and I bowl with fans down at The Alley. To have people who make you feel, not only a part of their community but part of their family, means a lot. I really want to thank all the people who have been watching me play."
You don't have to be a Battery fan to like John Wilson, his on-field contributions, his off-field charity work and Betsy. But it helps.
A rousing send-off Friday night is certain, capping one of the great careers in all of Charleston minor league sports.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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