It's been an extraordinary journey for Joey Gjertsen, the undersized soccer player from Tacoma.
His unlikely rise in soccer that began at Tacoma Community College recently landed him with the San Jose Earthquakes. The small-college player with the big-time game will now have a chance to play in Qwest Field against the Seattle Sounders FC.
“Part of me is surprised,” Gjertsen said. “Growing up, it was never really my goal to play pro soccer. I’ve always just tried to do the best I can where I’m at.”
And that’s been the key to his success. After he was the all-region MVP and an All-American at The Evergreen State College, Gjertsen became the league MVP while playing forward for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the United Soccer League’s first division.
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He then started at midfield the last two years with the Montreal Impact, then of the USL.
Now, Gjertsen, a slight, 5-foot-9, 160-pound player who can score, pass and defend, is expected to start at midfielder for San Jose.
“It always amazes me when guys from places like Appalachian State make it in the NFL,” said Tom Boatright, the former Evergreen coach who recruited Gjertsen. “But you get discovered. That’s part of Joey’s story.”
Gjertsen, 27 and a 2000 Wilson High graduate, always made sure he was “discovered” with superlative play. At Evergreen, he became the school’s leading goal scorer for a game (five), a season (28) and a career (54). At Vancouver, he scored 12 goals and was a key in the Whitecaps’ run to their first USL first division championship in 2006. That title and his MVP award earned Gjertsen his first offer from the MLS that year. But he wasn’t interested.
“I talked with a couple of teams,” Gjertsen said. “But it wasn’t the most important thing to play at (the) highest level. It was more important to be happy where I was at. I was comfortable in Vancouver.”
That all changed when he showed up to practice and was told he was traded to Montreal.
“That’s when I realized it was a business,” Gjertsen said.
Now, Gjertsen has a chance to earn a six-digit salary with the Earthquakes. He’s arrived.
“It thrills me to have someone like Joey be a role model for kids,” Boatright said. “There’s not one part of him that you wouldn’t say he’s a good model. I love that part of the story about Joey.”
In his one season at TCC, Gjertsen scored 31 goals and set a school record for assists with 14. He then transferred to Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., and helped the team win a national title.
Wanting to play on the same team with his older brother, Jason, Gjertsen transferred to Evergreen, where he became the school’s all-time leading scorer in two years.
“Joey had a lot of people looking at him,” Boatright said. “There were some D-1s in the mix. But he wanted to be with his older brother. They were just phenomenal together.”
With the Gjertsen brothers in the lineup, Evergreen qualified for the NAIA Division II national tournament and tied for fifth with a 16-7 record.
Now, Jason Gjertsen is coaching at TCC.
“I always make sure I tell people I played there,” the younger Gjertsen said.
Since Joey Gjertsen began his pro career as the undrafted rookie at Vancouver, Boatright has been his agent. With the move to the MLS, Gjertsen hired an agent. The two parties began talking in December, and San Jose made an offer after the Jan. 14 MLS SuperDraft.
“I owe everything to Tom because he made sure I was able to get looked at by the pros,” Gjertsen said. “I’ve always tried to make the most of it wherever I’ve gone.”
Gjertsen’s success at Vancouver opened doors at San Jose. His coach with the Earthquake, Frank Yallop, was the coach of the Canadian national team. He was living in Vancouver and watched Gjertsen play.
Also, Ian Russell, a former University of Washington soccer player and now a San Jose assistant coach, is a friend of Gjertsen’s.
“It’s a small world,” Gjertsen said. “From all those connections, that’s part of why I’m here now.”
Gjertsen’s play is also a big part of why he’s in the MLS.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Boatright said. “He’s made the most of every opportunity. Now, he’s going to be a fixture on that club.”