Board Games, Cupsets, And Drive: A Look At Hunter Gorskie’s Path To FC Edmonton
When the Eddies recruited American defender Hunter Gorskie, Koch new he was bringing in a veteran who had won championships before. In his first Canadian season and ninth as a professional, the 29-year-old is hoping to do it again.
The defender’s career has seen him split his time between America and Europe, pick up two championships, play in a multitude of positions, experience relegation, and start two different business ventures outside of the professional game – so how did the USL veteran land in Edmonton, Alberta?
For starters, Gorskie had suited up against his new coach back when Koch was with FC Cincinnati, and he evidently left an impression: when Koch found out he was free, discussions moved quickly during the offseason. A few weeks ago, he officially put pen to paper with FC Edmonton, making his debut in a narrow loss to Atletico Ottawa over the past weekend.
While Gorskie was deployed as a centre-back for his debut, the 30-year-old offers additional options for Koch. He’s played as both a left-back and a right-back before, and was even pushed upwards into a defensive midfield position while with San Antonio last year.
Koch has expressed that Hunter will bring key leadership attributes into a locker room that has plenty of new rookie recruits Saah T-Boy Fayia, Darlington Murasiranwa, and Joseph Holliday. Gorskie is no stranger to mentorship, having donned the captain’s armband on multiple occasions both through his youth career, at Stanford University, and at the professional level with the likes of Tampa Bay Rowdies and San Antonio.
What that generally means and the type of leader that I like to be is leading by example with my actions, and showing what the standard should be and how we should be carrying ourselves on the field and off the field. Hopefully that trickles down and inspires each player on the team to then inspire their teammates, and the result of that is hopefully a lot of success.Hunter Gorskie
The defender brings with him plenty of experience from both America and Europe, with his initial interest in football stemming back to – as interests often do with little brothers – a sibling rivalry. The competition between he and his older brother spanned a lot of mediums, but soccer was the mainstay through their formative years. It led Gorskie to eventually land with the Player Development Academy in New Jersey, which earned him a trial invitation to ESP.
The invite-only tournament required an recommendation by a regional ODP coach, and when the letter came his Mother actually almost threw it out: it looked a bit like soccer-related spam mail.
A lot of youth players talk about all the things that have to go right in order for you to play professional, and this is one of them. She was literally at the garbage can about to throw out this letter to the most elite soccer camp you could be invited to at the time. We had a contact with a journalist in this space, and she gave him a call just in case. The gentleman said ‘you better not throw that out, that’s your son’s ticket’. I ended up going to this camp, and every single college coach in the country was there.Hunter Gorskie
Gorskie impressed at ESP, even participating in the all-star game. Like most other colleges and universities, Stanford had sent scouts there, and they offered Gorskie an invitation. The then-teenage defender found himself at a crossroads, as his brother was playing collegiate football at the University of Pennsylvania, and he had a hankering to go there too. At the end of the day, however, Stanford University was what he chose.
I always thought the one thing I could control is the amount of work I put in. You never knew which team would win the national championship or go the tournament. I figured what I could control is that I have great facilities and great weather year-round and then I could basically train as much as I want, which would enable me to get to the level I want to get to and prepare myself for the pros.Hunter Gorskie
The Stanford student became a rare two-time captain, which meant that he donned the armband in both his junior and senior years, while also playing in the PDL for teams like the Central Jersey Spartans, Chicago Fire Premier, and New Jersey Rangers. All the while, he also worked on a major in science, technology, and society, with a minor in management, science, and engineering (or as he put’s it, business and entrepreneurship). That interest would help shape his career later on, too.
With a degree in hand, Gorskie found himself being courted by both the San Jose Earthquakes and the New York Cosmos. While San Jose did eventual put in a contract offer, it included options for multiple years. Gorskie had aspirations to play abroad, so he wanted to start things off on a one-year deal. The New York Cosmos offered that.
Life moved quickly after that, and his time with the Cosmos ended up slipping beyond a single year and into a few seasons. Gorskie picked up two championships along the way, while also experiencing the highlight of his career so far: scoring the winning penalty in a US Open Cup match against NYCFC in 2015, right in front of his friends and family.
It was the first time that these two teams were meeting eachother. They were calling it the East River Derby. We end up going into overtime with them, it was a crazy game in and of itself – I think they were winning 2-0 and we ended up tying it. They used to call us the ‘Cardiac Cosmos’ because we just wouldn’t die, and we always make it super exciting at the end and come back. True to form, we did come back that game, tied it up, and it went into overtime.Hunter Gorskie
With things level at the final whistle, the penalty kick takers lined up. Shot for shot, it was the kind of shootout where you just felt that an upset was in the air. Five shooters came and went, and Gorskie stepped up as the team’s sixth shooter in a score-and-win situation. He fired right. The goalkeeper went the right direction. It went in anyway.
That was a huge moment for me. My whole family was there. I’m from that area originally, so to share that moment with everybody, that was amazing. One of the pinnacles of my career.Hunter Gorskie
Having picked up his second NASL Championship title that year, Gorskie opted to play abroad. He’d also wanted to, and his agent leveraged a few overseas contacts to put him in touch with Polish second division side Miedz Legnica. He found himself impressed with the organization, and signed a multi-year deal with expectations to slot in at right-back. As often happens in football, by the time he landed in Poland the team had a new head coach who’d brought in a different right-back.
To break into the line-up, Hunter found himself deployed on the left flank. While the club had aimed high at the start of the campaign, it had found itself bottom of the table when Gorskie arrived mid-way through the season. The team was able to fight back up into the middle, with the former Cosmos man putting in most of his shifts at left-back and right-back.
Gorskie returned to the United States to sign with the Tampa Bay Rowdies at the tail-end of the 2017-2018 USL season, scoring on his debut and notching another two goals in the final few matches of the season. The club fell in the playoffs, but had a strong follow up season which saw Gorskie don the captain’s armband. He enjoyed his time with the club, but soon found himself getting the itch to play abroad again.
So, Gorskie signed with Danish second division side Thisted FC, joining halfway through the season. He wanted to showcase himself in the latter half of the season in an effort to get picked up by a Danish Superliga side, though Thisted struggled to put together results and ended up being relegated. Still, Gorskie did get a trial invite from Aalborg all the same.
During the season, Gorskie’s business background led him to two opportunities outside of the game. The first came through his club’s kit sponsor, EPS Recycle. He got in touch with the family behind the business and became invested in recycling Styrofoam himself. He and the family believed that were was a space in this industry in the United States, and Gorskie could be the one to find it.
Stranger things have happened in football, but few would have guessed his career might have headed that direction.
The other opportunity – which Gorskie is still involved in today – actually started with that same family. The defender is a big board game fan, and he ended up playing a game called Partners while he was there. He wanted to play it when he was back in the US, but couldn’t find it anywhere. He brought it up with a teammate, Casper Olesen, who was surprised that he couldn’t, referring it to the Monopoly of Denmark.
The offhand conversation nearly ended there, but then Olesen remembered a moment during some hot form a few years where a journalist had asked him why they were winning every game, and he jokingly replied that it was because they play Partners everyday. The comment reportedly caused a spike in sales, and the publishing house that owns Partners sent Oleson a thank you note.
Hunter urged his teammate to dig up the email of the publishing house and arrange a meet to see if they had interest in distributing to the US. The company replied quickly, a meeting was arranged, and one short pitch meeting later Hunter found himself signing a distributorship deal. Before he had even left Denmark, he suddenly had 500 copies of the game sitting in his garage in New Jersey.
While the defender remains focused on his football career, he’s still distributing Partners to this day – so Eddies fans shouldn’t be surprised if it makes an appearance at the Radisson Hotel during the month-long bubble.
The aforementioned business interests led Gorskie back to the US, and he soon began discussions with DC United, who had recruited his former Cosmos teammate Dane Murphy to the front office. While the MLS side ultimately filled the spot Gorskie was in contention for with someone else, the defender agrees to sign with their USL affiliate, Loudoun United, for the remainder of the season.
Having spent his career split between the United States and Europe, Gorskie thinks that a lot of people underestimate the American game.
Still to this day, the American leagues don’t get the respect that they deserve. Several of the teams that I’ve played on in the USL would actually beat the teams on that I played abroad. Whereas if you ask someone ‘what do you think a higher level is’, almost all of them would think the European teams would smash them, but it isn’t just the case.Hunter Gorskie
Last year saw Gorskie make the jump to San Antonio, a club he describes as one of the better organizations in the league. He donned the captain’s armband for the team, which opened strongly in a pandemic-impacted season. While he felt they could have won the Championship, it wasn’t on the cards that season.
To that end, he anticipates that the level between the United Soccer League and the Canadian Premier League will be similar. He was enticed at the idea of playing in a top division, which is something he hasn’t done before. The fact that there are multiple routes of qualify for continental action made the decision easier, too.
From what I know, there’s a lot of quality players here. There’s a lot of young up-and-coming players as well, which is an interesting challenge and awesome to see. Young players play with so much freedom and spirit, and it really adds a lot of excitement to the game. I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans, and I think it’s an exciting league to be watching right now. I’m pumped up for it.Hunter Gorskie
The opening weekend of the 2021 Canadian Premier League season saw Gorskie celebrate his thirtieth birthday in the bubble, with the defender now preparing for a tough match against Forge. Even when he was in quarantine, he was studying his new team and getting acquainted with the style of play, doing what he could to hit the ground running.
Like Amer Didic, he thinks that FC Edmonton has what it takes to surprise people over the course of the current season. He wants to win the league right off the bat.
That’s why we do it. Especially as an older, more experienced player. I think I can appreciate more than the younger guys, and having accomplished multiple championships, when you start to look back on your career that’s what you remember. You remember special seasons with a group of guys that you put everything on the line with, and you have highs, and you have lows, but you achieve what you ultimately set out to achieve, which is the championship.Hunter Gorskie
Gorskie has a lot of confidence in head coach Alan Koch and the redefined Eddies, which now boasts a lineup featuring former CF Montreal midfielder Shamit Shome, USL familiar Paris Gee, a pair of intra-league additions in Kyle Porter and Fraser Aird, and six other new faces slotting in alongside Hunter himself.
With Gorskie currently on a one year deal with the club, what unfolds this season could make or break a longer stay for the USL veteran. Whatever happens next, it’ll be another chapter in what has been quite an interesting career to follow so far.
FC Edmonton will square off against Forge FC on Canada Day at 8:00PM EST.