Josh Simpson is suddenly eyeing both Olympics and pros
The last 10 weeks have gone so well for Josh Simpson, he may have played his way off the University of Portland men's soccer team and into a professional contract.
But first, there's a little thing called the Olympic Games.
Simpson, a junior at UP, became a national hero in Canada in December when he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 upset of Burkina Faso in the FIFA World Youth Championships in the United Arab Emirates. The win sent Canada to the quarterfinals for the first time.
Although Canada lost to Spain in the quarterfinals, Simpson's play earned him a spot in the training camp for the Canadian Olympic team and a shot at the Canadian national team.
He left Wednesday to train with the Olympic team. Canada and seven other nations, including the United States, will compete in a tournament Feb. 3-12 in Guadalajara, Mexico, for two spots in the 2004 Athens Games.
'My life is going like crazy right now,' Simpson says. 'It's amazing what's happened and what's opened up. I have a lot of options, and I'm going to need to make some decisions here shortly.
'But, it's been a tremendous amount of fun.'
If Canada reaches the Olympics, Simpson may decide to skip his senior season and play professionally for a European team.
'He's a very skillful player,' says Portland coach Bill Irwin, who guided the Pilots to the second round of the NCAA tournament in November. 'He's got a lot of ability, and he's dynamic. He can change a game. We've heard there are pro teams interested in him.'
Simpson, an attacking midfielder, finished third in goals for the Pilots with four in 17 games. He also had four assists. Two of his goals were game-winners, and he was second on the team in shots with 35.
Irwin says Simpson has significant potential, the kind that has caught the eye of pro teams in Europe.
'His potential is very real,' Irwin says. 'He didn't start off the fall season too quickly, but he ended well. He certainly would have helped us in the playoffs.'
Simpson missed Portland's playoff run to train with the Canadian under-20 team in Turkey. He was a part-time player for the U17 team but had worked his way into a starring role with the U20 team that won the North American region of the qualifying tournament for the World Youth Championships, which are held every two years.
In the United Arab Emirates, Canada surprised the world by reaching the quarterfinals.
'Canada has never had a team go that far,' Simpson says. 'Everyone always puts Canada down in soccer. We always hear, 'You're Canada. You're nothing.' Now, all that's changed.'
The quarterfinal loss was 2-1 in overtime to Spain. Simpson and his teammates were just a lucky bounce away from playing in the semis with soccer powers Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.
Brazil, which lost to Australia in pool play, ultimately won the tournament.
'When we got to the quarters, England and Germany had been eliminated,' he says. 'But we were still playing. That was pretty cool.'
In January, Simpson got called up to train with Canada's U23 team in Barbados. He also spent a week with the national team. He played in Canada's 1-0 win over Barbados on Jan. 18.
'I got my first cap,' -he says with a big smile. 'I didn't expect that.'
Pilot alum Nate Jaqua also could be in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico this month. Jaqua recently got a call to compete for a spot on the U.S. squad, Irwin says.
Simpson, meanwhile, says keeping himself eligible for college soccer has been a challenge. He is making up classwork from the fall while taking other classes this semester.
'You really have to keep up good communication with your professors,' he says. 'But it's stressful, especially with soccer being such a big part of my life right now.'
Simpson hasn't had much time to compare notes on the international experience with fellow Pilot Christine Sinclair, who is working to get the Canadian women's team to the Olympics.
'Our schedules don't cross much,' he says. 'When I'm back, she leaves, and when she's back I seem to be gone.
'Maybe we can chat for a while when we're in Athens.'