Gordon Wild might be the most interesting soccer player you don’t know.
He’s hasn’t played in a World Cup, as four of his Galaxy teammates have. But how many of them grew up in a traveling circus? He’s hasn’t played for his national team, as 12 teammates have. But how many of them won an international cooking competition, as Wild did this week?
“Everyone has a little bit of a different background,” he said. “My family was in the circus. And yeah, it’s not something that you hear every day. But I’m grateful that they did that. I’m blessed with good genes from my father because of that.”
For seven years Wild has been trying to parlay those physical gifts into soccer success, chasing opportunities across two continents, through two colleges and with six professional teams. But he’s never had a better chance than the one he’ll get next month when the Galaxy play in the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando, Fla.
The competition’s condensed format — the Galaxy will play three group-play games in less than two weeks and seven games in 35 days if they reach the final — will put a premium on depth. That likely means extra minutes for Wild, who can play several positions.
“I only see a positive,” said Wild, who plays primarily as a wide midfielder. “I’m looking forward to this.”
As with most kids growing up in Germany, Wild fell in love with soccer at an early age. But the sport had to compete with the family business for his attention.
Wild’s grandmother was a tightrope walker and his dad, Johnny Meyer, did everything from the trapeze to stilt-walking. He founded a small troupe that performed all over Europe. His mother, Irene Wild, was a gymnast before attending circus school in Paris, and Wild’s brother worked as an acrobat before a knee injury ended his career.
“I did it at the same time,” said Gordon, whose family’s peripatetic lifestyle helped him learn five languages. “Acrobatics, trampoline and stuff like that. But at some point in Germany you have to commit to one of those things to become good. I chose soccer.”
As a teenager Wild trained in the youth academies of German clubs Mainz and SV Wehen Wiesbaden before coming to the U.S. to play at the University of South Carolina Upstate and Maryland. In his only season at USC Upstate, he led the nation in five offensive categories. In two years at Maryland he scored a team-high 22 goals — many with a wicked left-footed shot — to help the team to two NCAA tournament appearances.
Leaving home at 16 and living on his own helped Wild become proficient at more than just soccer. He also learned to cook.
“I had to kind of figure things out to provide for myself,” he said. “I didn’t want to eat out every night. From my dad I learned an Italian spaghetti Bolognese circus-style recipe that I’m good at making. From my mom, risotto and then the basics like noodles, rice, vegetables, different kinds of meat.”
That made him a ringer for the global cooking competition nutrition company Herbalife, the Galaxy’s shirt sponsor, organized with 16 players from men’s and women’s teams on five continents. Wild’s “cozy salmon,” which he made in the kitchen of his tiny South Bay apartment, won the chef’s award and a grant to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
“I had a very good lunch that day,” said Wild, who celebrated the victory by eating his entry.
Now he hopes to finally sink his teeth into MLS, an opportunity he’s been denied the last two years.
After college he was selected by Atlanta United in the 2018 SuperDraft but didn’t play a game before being waived halfway through his second season. D.C. United signed him last summer and loaned him to its USL affiliate in Virginia, where Wild scored 10 times in 16 games, only to be released again in January.
After a preseason trial with the Galaxy, Wild signed four days before the season opener and dressed for the team’s first two games. But he didn’t get on the field before the schedule was suspended by the COVID-19 outbreak.
In Orlando, he believes he’ll finally get to show what he can do.
“There’s going to come a chance. We’re going to play games,” he said Thursday following the Galaxy’s third full-team training session since March 12. “I’m in a club now where I like the way the coach plays. I like the style — attacking. I’m in a much better spot than where I was with the last two teams.”
Time is running short for Wild who, at 24 and without an MLS appearance, is straddling the line between destiny and disappointment as a soccer player. Several friends who have tasted his cooking have said whatever happens with soccer, he has a second career waiting for him in the kitchen.
Wild is determined to put that off for as long as possible.
“One hundred percent of my energy at the moment goes into football,” he said. “That’s my passion. That’s where I still see myself having a long career if I just stay healthy.”
All he needs now is a chance.