BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, July 27, 2011
After being released by DC United at the beginning of the 2010 season, Josh Wicks is enjoying a career rebirth at Finnish club IFK Mariehamn and is emerging as one of the league's best keepers.
Wicks, 27, has been a consistent starter for IFK since season began and is happy with how things have gone for him in Finland.
"For me it's been a good move," Wicks told YA from Mariehamn. "I've been playing really well. I'm happy with it. I think it was a good place for me to come to get another chance and a fresh start."
For most of 2010, Wicks was away from the game and his career was in limbo. When he signed with IFK, he did not know what to expect from the team or the league after being away from the game.
Quietly had has put on a solid year where he has been an integral part of IFK's improvement over last year. He attributes his improvement towards a rededication to the sport.
"I am really happy to be playing," Wicks discussed. "No one knew me here so I was able to clear my head, put everything off the field aside, and just concentrate on soccer. I think that's what's really helped me out a lot. I had the whole 2010 season off and when I was away from the game it gave me the chance to reflect on myself. Now I can just focus on what I have to do in goal and how I can get better."
The move to Finland was the first time that Wicks has played for a European based club. After playing in the lower levels of American soccer, Wicks made his way to MLS in 2008 when he played for the Los Angeles Galaxy and then made the move to DC for the following season.
Wicks did not know what the style of play would be like in Finland but after seven months he has come to appreciate the fast-paced style found there.
"It's a decent level of play," Wicks said of Finland's top league, the Veikkausliiga. "I didn't know what to expect but I came here with an open mind. From end to end, it's very fast. In the US you can build the play up, hold the ball and then move forward. Here it goes from end to end very quickly."
IFK are currently in fifth place in the Veikkausliiga where they are four points out of fourth place and nine points out of third place. The fight to move towards third place and a Europa League birth marks vast improvement from 2010 when the club managed to avoid relegation in the final weeks.
Wicks is very optimistic with how far he believes the club can climb in the remainder of the season.
"I think we can shoot for the top four," Wicks predicted. "Maybe even the top three if we play the way we've been playing. In the first part of the season we dropped some points that we shouldn't have. In the past few games, even though we haven't gotten a win, we've been playing well. If we keep that up, it looks like the rest of the season will be strong. To finish in third place is my goal."
Wicks' strong season has seen him draw interest from many clubs around Europe. Even though he was born in Germany on a US military base, he does not have a way of obtaining an EU passport. Still, a move to a stronger league is a possibility according to Wicks' agent Chris Megaloudis.
"All the feedback on wicks has been positive and it seems he has made the most of a second chance," Megaloudis said. "He continues to get more and more comfortable and has already started attracting the interest of other clubs in Scandanavia."
"He has a contract with Mariehamn through end of next season," he added. "He is grateful to the club for the chance they have given him. If potential opportunities arise for Josh we would communicate with the club to see if a move is possible. In the meantime Josh is happy to be back on the field with past behind him and a bright future in front of him."
Wicks is enjoying his time at IFK and wants to help lead the club towards the Europa league. A move, however, into a top league is something that he would welcome as it has been a personal career goal of his since he was a young player. He does envision returning to MLS again but he wants to go as far as he can in Europe first.
"I wanted to come here to get back on my feet and start my career again," Wicks explained. "I definitely want to move around in Europe. I definitely want to come back to the MLS but not anytime soon. I want to experience European soccer and try to get in a top league here like France, Germany, or Denmark. That was always my goal growing up as a kid.
Wicks' also hopes that his continued upward trajectory in Europe will lead him towards another professional goal in a callup to the US national team. Twelve months ago, such a dream was impossible to conceive but Wicks admits that it is something he thinks about frequently and that motivates him on the field.
"That's always in my head - to get a national team cap and play for the national team at home in front of my countrymen," Wicks concluded. "That is definitely one of my top goals for my career. I know we have great keepers and I know I have my work cut out for me to get a shot. Being here in Europe helps as I can keep moving forward and get into a top league when maybe I can get into a training camp to at least show what I can do."
Wicks and IFK Mariehamn will face their biggest challenge of the season on Saturday when they travel to take on HJK.