As we welcome Curt Johnson into the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame, we recognize two significant areas in a career that has taken him around the country: the city of Raleigh and his alma mater, North Carolina State University. From the time he was eight years old and, in his words, “rolling down the grassy bank of Carter-Finley,” the Wolfpack and the sport of soccer were at the forefront of his hopes and dreams.
On a national level, yes, he has been successful. Stints with Adidas at the 1994 World Cup and the U.S. Soccer Federation in Chicago led to a notable time with the Richmond Kickers of the USL. Johnson served as General Manager of the club, increasing ticket and sponsorship revenue by more than 100% during three years with the organization, and in November of 1998 the Kickers won the USL Progress Award for improvement. He also helped establish the Richmond Kickers Youth Soccer Club, work done by bringing together more than a dozen smaller groups.
This all preceded an enormously productive period when he served as the general manager of the MLS Kansas City Wizards (1999-2006). Highlights of that period included the team winning the 2000 MLS Cup and the 2004 U.S. Open Cup, both with 1-0 victories over the Chicago Fire. But Raleigh beckoned, and when the opportunity arose in 2006, Curt Johnson returned home.
He had been a product of the Capital Area Soccer League, starting early because “soccer was the only sport you could sign up for so young.” At Ravenscroft High School, Johnson was an All-State defender on a state championship team in 1986, was head coach for a time and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. Moving on to N.C. State, he played from 1987-1990, starting 72 games. His most memorable season came when he was a senior. In that year the Wolfpack won their only ACC Tournament to date (2-1 over Virginia) and then progressed to the NCAA semifinals where they lost in a penalty-kick shootout to eventual national champion UCLA. That experience was a big part of his thinking as he returned to the state. It was very much about what he had given and what he could give back.
“I still get chills thinking about that run.”
After a couple of seasons working with the NHL Carolina Hurricanes, he became president of the NASL Carolina Railhawks in 2011. It has been a wild ride for two seasons, and Johnson has been at the forefront in drumming up extraordinary fan support. But N.C. State is just five miles down the road and never very far from his mind. As one with such a great management background, Curt Johnson is watching player development and facility growth with a real sense of optimism.
“As we alums talk about what N.C. State is doing, it gives us a lot of pride to see what the coaches and players are putting into the program to get better. Nobody wants success more than we do….”
Game, city, university… three beneficiaries of a Hall of Fame career, and the exciting thing is that there is so much more to come. Curt Johnson will see to that.