Although a native of Canada, John Kerr, Jr. spent his early playing years in the Northern Virginia area. Some of his soccer highlights there included winning U-16 and U-19 (McGuire Cup) national titles with Montgomery United and capturing the National Amateur Cup in 1986 while playing for his father, John Kerr, Sr. and the Fairfax Spartans. But an even earlier memory may have signaled some of what was to come.
Kerr, Sr. was a transplanted Scottish footballer whose travels took him to many places, including an eight-year stint with the NASL and some time with Club America, based in Mexico City. At halftime of a match at Azteca Stadium, seven-year-old John, representing the club’s youngest youth team, scored an exhibition goal in front of 100,000 fans and “ran around like I had scored in the World Cup.” The die was cast. He seemed destined to make a name for himself on the world’s soccer fields.
His connections with North Carolina soccer began in 1984, when he was recruited by coach John Rennie (NC Soccer HOF, 2011) to play at Duke University. During Kerr’s time there, he was a two-time first team All-American and winner of the Hermann Award in 1986, the same year that he captained Duke as they won the NCAA championship. His career stats include 42 goals, 43 assists and 127 points, all still top five totals in the history of Blue Devil soccer. Kerr was inducted into the Duke Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
From 1984 on, he could also be found on the national and international scene. John made his debut for the USA vs. Ecuador in that year and was a regular until 1988. In 1995 he rejoined the team and was on the squad that reached the semi-finals of the Copa America. Kerr’s record with the U.S. national team included two goals in 16 appearances.
In 1986, after graduation, John became the first American to play in what is now known as the English Premier League, latching on with Portsmouth for a short time. Down the road he would play for UK clubs that covered all five of the English professional divisions and would also represent clubs in Canada, France and Northern Ireland. In the United States, teams he represented included the Washington Stars of the ASL (1988-90), San Diego of the Major Indoor Soccer League (1992), and Dallas and New England (1996-97). In 1998 he concluded the playing part of his career as a player-coach for the Boston Bulldogs of the professional A-league.
The transition to coaching Harvard University soccer would have seemed, then, to be fairly natural. And indeed, in nine seasons, Kerr attained a record of 81-57-13 and two NCAA appearances. He could conceivably still be with the Crimson, but Duke came calling in 2007 and he took over for Rennie as head coach. Since then he has led Duke to four NCAA berths and the round of 16 in 2009; coached eight NSCAA All-Americans; and produced another Hermann Award winner in Mathew Wenger (2011), who became the first Blue Devil to be taken first in the Major League Soccer Super Draft of that year.
The young boy soaking in the adulation of Mexican fans has come a long way since his experience, traveling many well-worn and, at times, bumpy roads and going many places. But John Kerr, Jr. now finds himself in the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame and, like so many others, is richer for the journey that got him there. And what a journey it has been.