Gros joins Union staff as team coordinator
Josh Gros suddenly finds himself on "Plan C." "Plan A" had been a good one - as a midfielder for Major League Soccer's D.C. United, Gros immediately worked his way from fourth-round draft pick to starter. A gritty, hard-working tactician, Gros was a driving force in a 2004 run that made Peter Nowak - now head coach of the expansion Philadelphia Union - an MLS Cup winner in his first season as coach.
Josh Gros suddenly finds himself on "Plan C."
"Plan A" had been a good one - as a midfielder for Major League Soccer's D.C. United, Gros immediately worked his way from fourth-round draft pick to starter. A gritty, hard-working tactician, Gros was a driving force in a 2004 run that made Peter Nowak - now head coach of the expansion Philadelphia Union - an MLS Cup winner in his first season as coach.
The years got progressively better for the Media-born playmaker, including an appearance in the 2006 MLS All-Star Game and a friendly for the U.S. National Team against Mexico in 2007.
"Plan B" was forced upon him in November 2007 when his playing career ended because of post-traumatic migraines, a condition initially triggered by a concussion suffered in the 2007 Champions' Cup game. Gros, who had planned to use his civil engineering degree from Rutgers in the Marines, found a job working on special government projects.
He knew "Plan C" - a post-playing career in soccer - was a long shot, but last week Nowak came calling and asked Gros (who will celebrate his 27th birthday Thursday) to join the Union as team coordinator. Gros will have a hand in just about everything from scouting to player relations - essentially anything Nowak needs to field a solid contingent next spring.
"Peter called me out of the blue and I jumped at the chance," Gros said. "When I was a player, he taught me so much. He was the coach that literally pulled you aside and worked with you. To be able to work with him and have a full-time job in soccer for me is a dream."
As far as Nowak sees it, selecting Gros was an obvious decision from the outset.
"The whole concept for me behind this relationship is that Josh was always the one guy you could rely on and really trust to get the job done no matter the position you put him in," Nowak said. "I'm not just talking on the field, he has that talent in life, and you need someone like that in order to be successful. With what we are trying to do here, I really couldn't think of a more perfect fit."
Hard work, dedication and mental toughness are what Gros banked on and conveyed in every stop in his soccer career. At Rutgers, Gros went from a situational reserve who played just 15 games as a freshman to earning Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors as a senior.
"I am going into my 29th season as the coach here and I can honestly say Josh is one of the top two or three guys I have ever coached," Rutgers coach Bob Reasso said. "He doesn't quit. I mean, we put him in just about any role you can think of and still received All-American-caliber play from him. He just always put himself at the service of the program first . . . If you could field a team of 11 guys like Josh, you'd never lose a game."
Among his playing-career highlights was the 2006 MLS All-Star Game in which he caught the attention of then-U.S. National Team coach Bruce Arena.
"Soccer was something I had loved to play ever since I was 5 and I had always envisioned what it would be like to play for my country," Gros said. "Every player dreams to play for his country and it didn't matter to me if I only got to play in one game or 100, to put that jersey on made all the hard work worth it."
Then, things changed.
In April 2007, Gros' routine head-ball challenge in United's Champions' Cup game against Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico resulted in agonizing pain mixed with dizziness and blurred vision. Diagnosed as a concussion, Gros returned a few weeks later and played in 17 consecutive matches before the conditions returned in August in an MLS game against Columbus.
Physicians at the University of Pittsburgh's sports medicine concussion department diagnosed Gros with post-traumatic migraines. Not life-threatening, he was cleared to play and continue his budding soccer career. The honeymoon lasted only a few more months until yet another incident in October - once again while playing Chivas - forced Gros to announce his retirement in November, ending a career full of promise.
"It was so hard when I first stopped playing. I mean, I got really down about it, but at the end of the day you realize that there are far worse things in life than not being able to play," Gros said. "So I really forced myself to not get to down about it." *