Multi-sport Athletes - 2020 - primary image

Major League Soccer's multi-sport athletes, past and present

From Jim Thorpe to Dave Winfield to Bo Jackson to Seattle Sounders co-owner Russell Wilson, the history of sports is littered with athletes who fascinated fans by being able to shine at a high level in more than one competitive pastime. 

Soccer players are no exception in this regard, with numerous current and former Major League Soccer players fitting the multi-sport bill for exploits away from the pitch. We're not talking about cases where someone simply played another sport. They had to have received accolades and/or demonstrated some pro potential away from soccer to make the cut here. 

Some of these examples you surely knew about already, while others will come as an enjoyable "I had no idea!" surprise. Most of the guys listed enjoyed their finest non-soccer days during high school or college, but a handful did make waves in another sport after leaving MLS. 

To keep things tidy, we've separated these MLS names by their top secondary (or in a couple cases, primary) sport. 

Baseball

One may not consider America's national pastime as a sport with many skills that translate to soccer, but that didn't stop a few MLS players from excelling on the diamond. 

Tony Meola 

The longtime Kansas City and US national team goalkeeper was an All-State honoree as a third baseman after his senior year at Kearny High School. Meola was drafted by the New York Yankees, but instead accepted a soccer and baseball scholarship to play at the University of Virginia. He hit .400 with six RBI and nine runs scored as a freshman, but would leave the baseball program to focus on soccer. Of course, that's just the tip of the multi-sport iceberg for Meola, who also captained his high school basketball team and was briefly signed as a tryout kicker for the New York Jets during the 1994 NFL preseason.

Taylor Twellman

The grandson of former Major League outfielder Jim Delsing was a sweet-swinging shortstop at St. Louis University High. Twellman was once invited to work out for his beloved hometown Cardinals, as well as the Mets and the Royals. Kansas City offered him a deal, but he declined to play soccer at the University of Maryland.

Josh Williams

The Crew defender was a power-hitting shortstop at Akron's Copley High School, where he also shined as the starting point guard for the basketball team. Williams received Division I scholarship offers to play baseball for the likes of Kentucky and West Virginia, but opted to concentrate on his budding soccer career.

Basketball

It should come as no surprise to find two of the most famous American goalkeepers of all-time and a spark plug target forward among those on the list of MLS names that once shined on the hardwood.

Brad Friedel 

The iconic goalkeeper's talents weren't limited to the soccer field. Friedel was also an All-Ohio selection in basketball and a four-year letterman in tennis at Cleveland-area Bay High School. He was once offered a chance as a UCLA freshman to walk-on to their basketball team. 

Jay Heaps 

The former Revs player and coach was a sparingly used back-up point guard all four years at Duke. Heaps made 30 total appearances off the bench for Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, including three in NCAA Tournament play. He was part of teams that won three conference regular season and two conference tourney titles, and was on the bench as Duke dropped the 1999 championship game to Connecticut.

Tim Howard 

The World Cup 2014 hero was voted best athlete by his senior class at North Brunswick Township High School, and it wasn't just for his soccer exploits. Howard was also an ace forward on the basketball team, with a mighty impressive glory day to his credit. In the Raiders' first ever Greater Middlesex Conference Boys Basketball Championship final appearance, he helped contain National High School Player of the Year (and future second overall NBA draft pick) Jay Williams in a 66-55 upset.

For his troubles, Howard was named to the All-Tournament Team. Now retired from soccer, he could even take another shot at hoops if he wanted; the Harlem Globetrotters drafted Howard back in 2009.   

Clint Irwin

While the Colorado backstop didn't exactly star on the court at Charlotte Christian School, he does have quite a unique claim to basketball fame: being a teammate of Golden State superstar Steph Curry.

"I was a sixth man — a small forward or power forward," Irwin once told Sportsnet. "My job was basically to play defense, get rebounds, set screens for guys to get open." He was good enough for Division II colleges to scout him, but left the sport behind to focus on soccer.

Roger Levesque 

The Seattle Sounders fan favorite also starred on the basketball court in high school. Levesque led Falmouth High to three straight state titles, and was named Maine's Class C Player of the Year after his junior and senior seasons. To boot, he also reached on an error, stole second base and scored on a sacrifice fly to account for the winning run as Falmouth claimed the 1998 state baseball crown. Since retiring from soccer, Levesque has fared well running ultra-marathons, with one 50K win and several top five finishes at various distances. 

Football

Try not to fall out of your seat in shock, but a few MLS players have led double lives as football placekickers.

Devin Barclay

After seeing limited success with MLS for four clubs, Barclay went back to school. He walked on to the Ohio State football team as a kicker, eventually rising to the starting role as an injury replacement during his junior season. In 19 games as the starter, Barclay made 27 of 34 field goal attempts and all 74 of his extra point tries. He made three field goals in the Buckeyes' 2010 Rose Bowl victory, and another in their Sugar Bowl win the following season (which was eventually vacated due to NCAA violations).  

Josh Lambo

Though he never played in a competitive match for FC Dallas, Lambo did dress as the back-up 'keeper on 18 occasions over the 2008 and 2009 campaigns. Soccer didn't quite work out for him, but he has found success as a placekicker in the NFL. Lambo spent two years with the San Diego Chargers before joining the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017.

He has hit 88.5% of his career field goal tries (including 14 of 19 successful kicks from 50 years or more), and led the league with 97.1% last season. Lambo has also played in three NFL playoff games, with his 45-year field goal with less than two minutes left accounting for the difference in an epic 45-42 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.

Tanner Tessmann

The FC Dallas rookie standout actually committed to play both soccer and football at Clemson just prior to Christmas. Despite drawing raves about his potential from Tigers coach Dabo Sweeney (who also happens to be his godfather) after winter workouts, Tessmann changed course just a few months later to sign a Homegrown deal with the Frisco bunch. 

Golf

Pro athletes of all stripes are known to love hitting the links. They also tend to have enough down time to become quite good at golf, and soccer players are no exception.   

Julian Gressel

The D.C. United midfielder, who says he practices his swing at the driving range 2-3 times a week, has an enviable 1.2 handicap. Last September, he held Gresselmania, a charity golf tournament at the famed course at Sugarloaf to benefit Atlanta's Soccer in the Streets program.

Keegan Rosenberry

Like Gressel, the Colorado defender was listed in Golf Digest's recent list of the top pro athlete golfers. Not only does Rosenberry play with a 5.3 handicap, but he's also an amazing indoor trick shot artist, as he showcased in Week 1 of MLS Idle.

Roy Wegerle 

After his soccer playing days ended, Wegerle took a good shot at joining the European PGA Tour. The former US international made the cut twice, at the 2002 Dunhill Championship (finished 154th) and the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George's (157th).

Ice hockey

As a large number of MLS players hail from Canada and Scandinavia, it only stands to reason some also laced up skates during their formative years. A couple of those guys may have had an outside shot at the NHL before deciding to veer toward soccer.

Patrice Bernier

The former Montreal Impact captain was also once a hotshot on skates. Bernier played a few seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, mostly with Val d'Or. A solid offensive defenseman, he put up 73 points in 143 games from 1996-98, when he was a teammate of NHL All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo. When it came time to decide between chasin the NHL or playing college soccer for Syracuse, Bernier chose the latter.

Axel Sjoberg

Until the age of 15, the lanky Columbus defender also played competitive hockey as a center. Sjoberg, who idolized Mats Sundin, eventually had to make a choice. "It came down to going the hockey route or the soccer route," he told MLSsoccer.com a few years back. "My dad was a proponent for hockey. I think I could’ve gone pro." 

Russell Teibert

The Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder played AAA minor hockey, the highest level for kids in their early teens. When he turned 14, the time came to make a decision between the frozen pond and the soccer pitch. In part because playing hockey required him to make the hour-and-20-minute trip to Toronto and back five times a week, Teibert opted to put down his stick and pursue soccer full-time.

Lacrosse

We're only including players in this article, so no blurb for one-time lacrosse All-America honorable mention Bruce Arena. However, one of his former charges twice topped that feat during his days playing this exciting sport. 

Zach Thornton 

He may have been a goalkeeper in his pro soccer life, but before that Thornton was a midfielder for Loyola University Maryland's storied lacrosse team. He notched 43 goals and 17 assists while helping the Greyhounds reach back-to-back NCAA Division I Championship quarterfinals. The local product was named third-team All-American in 1994, and as a second-teamer the following year.

Surfing

You all probably knew who we're about to mention as soon as you saw the sport named above. 

Frankie Hejduk 

Hanging ten wasn't just a summer fitness pastime for American soccer's original surfer dude. Hejduk (or "Heydude" if you will) was a member of the San Dieguito High School surfing team that won both state and national championships. He also won the National Junior High School Surfing Championship in 1988 and qualified for US Amateur Surfing Team before settling his focus on soccer.

Team handball

While most Americans have probably never seen this sport played professionally, it's very popular in Europe. 

Freddie Ljungberg 

Long before becoming an Arsenal icon, Ljungberg had to choose soccer at a fork in the road. Having already left ice hockey behind at age 12, he continued playing handball in the youth set-up of local side Drott, one of the most successful clubs in the Swedish top flight. He was called up to the Under-15 national teams of both handball and soccer, and chose to focus solely on the latter shortly thereafter.

Tennis

Despite one considered a blue-collar sport and the other is thought of as a country club game, there have been MLS players who shined in both soccer and tennis growing up. 

Fernando Aristeguieta

The former Philly Union loan forward was once an accomplished youth tennis player back in Venezuela. Aristeguiesta even competed in international tournaments, and in fact, was ranked in the national top 10 when he decided to stow his racket at the age of 12 to devote full attention to soccer. 

Shaun Maloney

The longtime Scotland midfielder, who spent one injury-interrupted season with the Chicago Fire FC, is another player who spent a lot of time on the tennis court as a youngster. Maloney helped his high school team win Scotland's national tourney and reach the final eight of the Great Britain edition.

He was good enough at both singles and doubles to travel for junior tournaments where he was drawn to face the likes of Andy and Jamie Murray. "At the age of 14, I had to make a choice as to whether I really wanted to commit to football, and that's what I did," Maloney told TennisHead. 

Track

Considering all the running soccer requires, it makes sense some players have a history of success racing for the tape in their backgrounds.

Chris Wondolowski

After graduating from De La Salle high school, Wondolowski received several Division I scholarship offers from big name schools — for track. Despite being a relative beginner, he admirably ran the 800 meter and 1600 meter races at California's state championships. Of course, Wondo would spurn the likes of UCLA and Cal-Berkeley to accept a Division II soccer scholarship at Chico State, and the rest is MLS history.

Marvell Wynne 

With a 100-meter best recorded time of 10.39 seconds, Wynne may well have been the fastest soccer player in the world during his playing days. He also ran the 200m, 400m (personal best: 48:10) and the anchor leg of a couple of relays at Poway High School, and medalled several times. 

Ultra-marathon

It may sounds insane to regular Joes and Janes, but yes, there is a sport where the athletes run races up to 100 miles long. A couple of well-known MLS names have fared even better than Levesque since transitioning to this extreme sport following the end of their soccer careers. 

Wade Barrett

Though he started to dabble in ultra-marathon running while still a member of the Houston Dynamo, Barrett quickly realized his offseason training hobby was not conducive to better performance on the pitch.

"You really need power in your legs, and distance training is not what a professional soccer player needs," he once explained to Outside Magazine.

After hanging up his boots, Barrett dove into extreme distance running, and gradually improved to become a top competitor. He won his first 50-mile race in 2013, and has finished first in three others since. Of his 11 total victories, another three have been in 50K races and he's also taken a pair of 60K races. He's never won a 100-miler, but his best time at that distance is a wildly impressive 15 hours, six minutes and 49 seconds. 

Nate Jaqua

Like Barrett, Jaqua transitioned to post-soccer life by running extremely long distances rather well. He has won three 100-mile races, with a best time of 18:12:30. The former striker has also logged three runner-up finishes in 50-kilometer races.

Wrestling

No, we didn't find any tangle and mangle center backs who excelled on the mat. However, one of the league's all-time great defensive midfielders once starred in this physically demanding sport that also requires quickness and strategy.

Kyle Beckerman 

The Real Salt Lake man was among the top high school wrestlers in the country during his time at DeMatha High School. He won a Maryland state championship and finished third at the Mid Atlantic Classic, one of the most challenging events in the nation, in 1996. Beckerman gave up wrestling after his sophomore season to dedicate himself to soccer full-time.

Volleyball

It's a sport for tall guys with hops, so naturally a defender known for his ability to win aerial duels on the pitch is the lone MLS alum with a history in this other net sport. 

Tony Lochhead

During his secondary school years back in New Zealand, the former New England and Chivas USA defender played the traditional indoor version for Otumoetai College. Lochhead eventually helped New Zealand win a silver medal at the International Children's Games, an International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event for kids age 12-15. There's even a beach volleyball court at his parents' home in Tauranga, and his brother Jason was a ranked pro on the AVP tour for several years.

Series: 
Topics: